2019 kicked off in fine fashion with Hulu surprise-releasing FYRE FRAUD, their documentary about the disastrous Fyre Festival, a few days before Netflix released its own doc on the subject, FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened.
In addition to sparking a war of words between the two docs and causing everyone on the Internet (even Ja Rule!) to choose which doc they liked more, it also brought added attention to Jerry Media/FuckJerry, the advertising/social media agency that was instrumental in promoting Fyre Fest (even though they allegedly knew in advance it was turning into disaster) and has been getting dragged online with the hashtag #FuckFuckJerry for stealing comedians’ content. Now, a new report from The New Republic paints a pretty compelling portrait of the Netflix documentary—which was co-produced by Jerry Media and featured many of its major figures as interview subjects—as a way to spin the Fyre Fest narrative into “a shadow public relations campaign” in Jerry Media’s favor.
The lynchpin of their damning report is Michael Swaigen, a freelance cinematographer hired by Fyre founder Billy McFarland to help work on a “recovery documentary” once he realized what a disaster Fyre Fest was. (Swaigen also shot the viral commercial for the festival featuring all those models and influencers rollicking on the beach.) He was an associate producer of Hulu’s doc (and appeared on camera), but his footage was also used in Netflix’s doc. He was initially approached by Vice in the summer of 2017 about working on the Netflix doc, but felt “wary of Vice’s flashy ethos, and left feeling dubious about the project.” (It didn’t help that director Chris Smith “knew absolutely nothing” about the fest at that point.)
By winter 2017/2018, Jerry Media got involved when Vice went to them asking for footage to use. Swaigen instead started working with Hulu and documentarian Jenner Furst—he says the Hulu doc “didn’t feel like anything shady” in comparison to the Netflix/Vice one. By the start of 2018, Jerry Media—and in particular CEO Mick Purzycki—had become producers of the doc, with Vice becoming “involved in this peripheral sense.”
By the time the Netflix doc was complete, the executive producers included Elliot Tebele and James Ohliger from Jerry Media, and Max Pollack, Matthew Rowean, and Brett Kincaid of Matte Projects (who also were involved with Fyre Fest—they owned most of the behind-the-scenes footage seen in the Netflix doc). The only Vice person listed as executive producer was reporter Gabrielle Bluestone, who also appeared as a talking head.
In other words, the Netflix doc was largely produced by people who were directly involved with staging Fyre Festival. The Hulu doc directly accuses Jerry Media of knowingly lying to attendees by positively promoting the fest up until launch day. Oren Aks, a former Jerry Media designer hired to do social media for Fyre, says in the Hulu doc that he was personally instructed to delete any negative or accusatory posts about Fyre on its Instagram. (Jerry Media denied any such foreknowledge of the disaster-in-the-making, saying, “All actions taken by Jerry Media were done at the direction of the Fyre Festival.”) Those accusations and denials all appear in the Hulu doc—there was no mention of Jerry Media’s alleged complicity in the Netflix doc.
As New Republic writes, “In fact, Fyre posits that the blame was solely McFarland’s. Those facts alone are strong evidence that Fyre is partially a cover-up, shot and edited to conceal FuckJerry’s mistakes under garish anecdotes about blowjobs-for-Evian.” The New Republic also reports that Jerry Media CEO Mick Purzycki sent an email to Swaigen, dated March 25th, 2018, writing, “I have final cut on the film and will not be approving anything that is not done with integrity.”
Netflix disputed Purzycki’s level of control in a statement to New Republic: “Jerry Media did not have final cut. There was an initial agreement that either party could walk away at any point and retain the rights to what they came into the project with,” Netflix said. “This was superseded by the distribution agreement where the final cut was with the director.”
The whole New Republic article is worth reading, but there’s one other major detail that stands out to me: Smith, the Netflix director, previously told The Ringer that the Hulu documentarians paid McFarland for his appearance, which he believes was a serious ethical lapse on their part. “After spending time with so many people who had such a negative impact on their lives from their experience on Fyre, it felt particularly wrong to us for him to be benefiting,” he said. But Purzycki told The New Republic that McFarland was “originally supposed to appear in the Netflix movie, according to a deal cut with Jerry Media for 12 percent of the film’s backend revenue to pay back ticket-holders, but he failed to show up at the last minute. Vice confirmed the proposed arrangement, undermining Smith’s accusations of unethical behavior by Hulu.”
We reached out to both Hulu and Netflix for comment on all this. Suffice to say, we’re really going to need a third documentary ASAP to sort through this Fyre doc mess!