MY TAKE ON FYRE

29 January 2019

FYRE - I’ve had so many messages asking me what I thought about Netflix’s Fyre documentary. I wasn’t in a huge rush to watch it as I figured it would just be an exercise in fault finding - and there are posts and opinions aplenty across the interweb pointing out Fyre’s failings. Given all the questions though, I decided to watch it, and rather than just finding fault, thought I'd look, more usefully, at how the disaster could have been avoided. 6 minutes of video, that looks at a few key areas that could have been addressed to bring Fyre to successful fruition - other than fixing the obviously dubious ethics . . . not much I can do about those! 

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT:

Hi, I'm Will Glendinning, I'm a live event producer, designer and director. I've had so many messages over the last few days asking me what I think about the Fyre documentary on Netflix.

Now, this is a documentary about what was supposed to be a high-end festival on a tropical island that went very, very wrong. I admit, I'm a bit late to the party, because I was in no rush to watch Fyre. For many of the same reasons some doctors don't like watching medical dramas. It's just an exercise in fault finding. But given I got so many messages about it, I decided to watch it. The fact that this documentary came out in the middle of the marketing blitz for my new book 'The Facts of Live', is a little fortuitous perhaps, but I'll save the opportunistic plug until the end of the video. Now there's lots we can discuss in Fyre or about it.

But I want to focus on my three main takeouts, which are: hopium, structure and leadership, and awareness.

Admittedly, the hopium in Fyre was pretty strong stuff, but people starting or launching events based largely on goodwill and sometimes hope, is more common than you might think. Countries bid to host major sporting events long before all funding is in place, way before all the practical details and feasibility have been sorted out. And whether it's a huge benefit concert, a small community event, a music festival or brand new arts or sporting event, the old 'build it and they will come' mentality is alive and well. At least in the early stages of most event ideas.

Video: "How am I gonna get the bands to come?" "If you book them, they will come."

You do need a bit of faith and optimism, or hopium to plough through the not inconsiderable obstacles that can stand in the way of bringing live events to fruition. Converting hopium into something tangible though requires the right structure to support it and manage or guide its ambition. This was clearly missing in Fyre. There were people around Fyre's main people that had some relevant experience, but not much. And any experience is almost pointless unless it's structured properly.

And that's my second takeout. Structure and leadership. Whether it's the Olympic Games, a festival, an experiential brand event, an exhibition, a conference, a ceremony, or any other type or scale of live event, if these fundamental questions can't be answered almost immediately, there is no way on Earth that event is being produced, planned or delivered as efficiently and effectively as possible. Which one person is the overall lead, ultimately responsible for delivering the event? And have they got the contextual experience of having delivered similar before in similar circumstances? Which one person is the overall lead for all the content or creative direction, and have they got the relevant content or creative experience? Which one person is responsible for the physical delivery of everything? And have they the contextual experience of having delivered similar before? And which one person is responsible for all the logistics and operations requirements: travel, accommodation, catering and all the rest of it? And have they got the contextual experience of having delivering similar before? These could all be the same person on a small event, or they may have massive committees or teams involved. But ultimately there needs to be a directly accounted individual in each of these four roles.

On larger, multi-faceted events, you just divide the event into smaller, obvious, sub-events and ensure they have the same structure. However, the person ultimately responsible in this structure doesn't necessarily need to be the public face of the event. The person championing the cause publicly or bringing the money in, like the main character in Fyre, can simply report into and work with this structure. Live events move and change quickly. Without this structure, everything, for everyone, is more painful and more wasteful than it needs to be. Whenever I look at an event that has issues that need addressing, be they large or small, it's almost always comes back to this structure not being in place. There was no such structure with Fyre and no one seemed to ask about it.

Which brings me to my third takeout from the documentary. Awareness. The funders and celebrities backing Fyre didn't come out well in this documentary either. This is partly down to ego, though mainly down to lack of awareness. When it comes to live events, there isn't the awareness there is with other sectors.

If you're ill, everyone knows you need a doctor. You need legal advice, everyone knows you need a lawyer. Want a house designed and built, and everyone knows they need an architect and a builder. You may not know what they all do, but you know you need them. With live events, people tend not to know what they need or just give it a go themselves. There just isn't this same common awareness when it comes to live events.

Those supporting Fyre, perhaps with more awareness, could have asked these simple questions. Those trying to create the Fyre festival could have put this simple structure in place. Importantly, the person leading the structure needed to have the relevant contextual experience. Which in this instance, means someone who had a proven track record of delivering similar events. And with enough charisma, diplomacy and courage to stand up to and support someone like Fyre's chief protagonist. And able to support and lead the rest of the people involved too. Fyre may then have successfully come to fruition in some way, shape, size or form. Or halted in good time. Make no mistake, the line between success and failure of many live events is wafer thin. Scarily so at times.

Fyre failed due to untamed ambition. A lack of structure, a lack of relevant experience, a lack of awareness and simply by no one asking the right questions. Or even knowing what questions to ask. Some of those involved in Fyre clearly had questionable ethics. Though, I got the sense from the film that those behind Fyre did actually, initially, want the festival to be a success. But, as is so common, those who own the idea or ambition were blinded by that ambition and their own agenda, often aren't willing to hear or accept qualified advice and as a result it ended up spiraling out of control.

The fact no one at Fyre was seriously injured or there weren't more serious consequences than unfortunately people losing a lot of money was one of the most astonishing parts of the Fyre story.

If you haven't watched Fyre, it's an hour and a half long car crash of a story that still, in my view, leaves many questions unanswered.

Anyway, if you want to avoid your own Fyres, the official launch of my new book The Facts of Live, which is all about how to conceive, procure and produce live events that create the greatest value and impact, is on the 12th of February, 2019. Head over to www.TheFactsOfLive.com to find out about the various offers available for launch day and to find about the other resources launching the same day too. Thanks for watching, and I'll speak to you again soon.