Fyre Mess: Reactions from ILEA Members on the Fyre Fest Documentaries
Wednesday, January 30, 2019
If you didn’t hear about Fyre Festival when it “happened” in 2017, you’ve likely heard about it in the past couple of weeks. Streaming sites Netflix and Hulu both put out documentaries on the festival’s mishaps — and the dirty details are more incredible than you can imagine. We reached out to ILEA members who watched one or both of the documentaries to get their thoughts.
What was your reaction to the documentaries?
Sabina Fechisin (SF): I couldn’t believe how unorganized and unethical the planning process was. I couldn’t help but think of all the ways they could have done better. There were so many times that I wanted to yell at them to cancel orders or back out as a vendor. We all get caught up in the planning process from time to time, but a lot of them admitted that they knew this was not going to work.
Elizabeth Nutting, CSEP (EN): I spent most of the time aghast at what I was seeing (with a slight sense of schadenfreude, of course). I could not understand why on earth the event professionals involved in Fyre Festival would ever want to show their faces, let alone share the stories that they shared on a documentary. I am astounded they did not remove themselves from the situation.
Michael Weishaus (MW): I was in complete shock. I could not believe that these people would even let the attendees get on planes knowing there was no way the event could happen.
Elizabeth Covino (EC): I was struck by the similarities of some of the greatest concert tragedies and mishaps that have come before the Fyre Festival. Was history repeating itself? In the original 1969 Woodstock concert, the concert planners’ permits were pulled eight weeks before the actual event, causing them to search frantically for the farm in Bethel, New York. As the thousands came to that concert, they were still putting up the fence and were forced to call it a “free show.” Six months later at the Altamont Race Track, the Rolling Stones held a free concert. They were also forced to move their concert venue in less than two days. Unfortunately, in this instance a concertgoer was stabbed to death in front of the stage. The organizers of Fyre Festival were actually lucky that the concert goers escaped tragedy, all the while enduring false promises, lack of adequate shelter and food.
Aisha Thomas (AT): My immediate reaction was disbelief and concern for the locals and travelers who had no idea what was happening. I felt anxiety throughout wondering what would happen next and disappointment that with so many people involved. No one really spoke up.
What is the craziest thing from the story that, as a live events professional, you couldn’t believe happened?
SF: To me, by far the craziest thing was what Billy McFarland asked one of the event producers to do to get the Evian water released from customs. I also can’t believe that the event producer was going to do it! Did they not know to budget for taxes and fees? There were so many crazy things that happened that the fact that their pilot taught himself to fly on a Microsoft Flight Simulator was overshadowed. Seriously, no one thought twice about how to get the water from customs or the fact that their pilot learned from a basic simulator?
EN: How is it that the pilot who taught himself how to fly by playing computer games was the only person raising red flags?
EC: The craziest thing that I witnessed in this documentary was a blind faith in the promoter Billy McFarland. Even when all the information was apparent, lack of facilities, supplies, housing and cancellation of performances, most of his team carried on with a blind faith that it would all work out. Those of us in the industry understand the production and logistics it takes to even consider an event of this magnitude.
AT: The craziest thing is the concept of an event with such a large magnitude was promoted and implemented without not only a full plan but no real location. And throughout the lack-of planning process, there were several instances with obvious red flags; however, it kept moving forward. No one spoke up. No discovery or due diligence was followed, which is very important when planning in a foreign location. For instance, a simple inquiry would’ve revealed the required duty that is imposed on the purchases of alcohol outside of the country. That amount alone was a blow to the budget. There also wasn’t any proper insurance in place, which in itself is a nightmare.
What do you hope is the biggest takeaway for live events professionals from the Fyre Fest failure?
SF: I have two things for this. 1) Be realistic. Yes, you can dream of the greatest event of all time. Yes, you can come up with incredible designs. Yes, shoot for the stars. But be realistic about your budget, timeline and workload. Take your time and be thorough in the development phase. 2) Be better. Don’t let a client talk you into doing some shady stuff. If they are holding your fee until you do unethical things then walk away, there will be other clients. Hold yourself to a higher standard.
EN: I hope that all event professionals are just as dismayed as I am — and that they speak up. Warn the client when your event is going off the rails. Hold steady to your values when your expertise is being questioned by an amateur. And walk away. Had the Fyre Festival event professionals walked away sooner, then there is a good chance that the festival would not have defrauded so many innocent people.
MW: It is the job of event professionals to ensure your guests have an exceptional experience, while being safe at the same time. In the world we live in today, safety and security are always a top priority. This was not the case for Fyre. They did not have enough mattresses for the attendees and did not even have the housing that people have paid for. The biggest takeaway would be to know your limits and to really know what you can do prior to marketing your event. I truly believe this event could have been possible if they had more time to plan and cut back on some of the “wants” and focused more on the “needs.” Also, the “planners” of the event spent way too much time partying it up on the islands in the beginning stages instead of actually focusing on the event.
EC: The biggest takeaway for live event professionals is that what we plan can have an impact on a much larger community then ourselves. Most of the time with positive impact. The Fyre Festival impacted attendees, stakeholders, vendors, entertainers, employees and many local people in the Bahamas. Some may never recover.
AT: I hope that producers plan and then have a backup to the plan. Put contingencies in place and perform the proper research to understand the scope prior to attempting to produce.
Sabina Fechisin is the program manager and director of Etc. & Stuff.
Elizabeth Nutting, CSEP
Elizabeth Nutting, CSEP, is the director of events for Production Canada.
Michael Weishaus is the president of the Live Events Association at Johnson & Wales University.
Elizabeth S. Covino
Elizabeth S. Covino is an associate professor in the School of Hospitality at Johnson & Wales University.
Aisha Thomas is an event producer and destination specialist at Aisha Thomas Events LLC.