It's interesting to compare this to the Jim and Andy documentary, which is built around one long interview with the subject. Fyre is basically the opposite of that. How challenging was it to create a portrait of Billy without actually having an interview with him?
Smith: It was incredibly challenging. That was the thing that we wrestled with for the entire year. I'm happy with where we ended up but it was the most challenging aspect. Ultimately, the movie is a character study, but you're trying to tell that story with limited resources. That was far and away the most challenging thing, but I think that with the pieces of the footage we had and the stories people tell, I think we get a good sense of who he was and how things unfolded.
I think one thing the movie does really well is show how Fyre's failure didn't just affect the venture capitalists funding it or the wealthy fans trying to go to it, but that it also hurt the people on the ground. Did you know that was going to be such an important part of the story?
Smith: No, I think in covering it you want to cover all the angles and see what the fall-out was. I don't think that we knew exactly if that existed, and if so, how these people were affected. But in doing the research and talking to people, you realize there were real consequences for some of the people that were involved. [Caterer] MaryAnn [Rolle] put a lot of her own money up to help make this happen because everyone said they were going to pay people. Of course, you look at something like that and you can't imagine it failing. They had all these bands coming, all these people are coming. This was such a big thing. There's no way this couldn't work. They're telling you there's nothing to worry about, so you invest in good faith. To me that was the most heartbreaking interview to do because you could feel her pain.
The other part of this story that the documentary looks at is the NYC VIP Access scam that Billy committed after Fyre. How did you get all of that footage of him hanging around that apartment?
Smith: There was an artist named Akindo, who is in the movie, and he was filming that, so we worked with him. We had already been in touch with him because he had filmed a lot of the Magnises days. When news broke about [NYC VIP Access], I think he realized he had footage from that time.
It's just wild to see Billy go right back to the behavior that got him in trouble.
Smith: Yeah, you would think that if you're out on bail, you would be on your best behavior. That's the part that's most shocking about that material.
Do you think Billy was sincere in his pursuit of the Fyre Festival?
Smith: Yes, I do. You'd be a fool to try to do a fraud where you're going to fly people to an island and have nothing there. Billy wanted to be at the center of that world, and to do this festival -- with these models and that talent -- to him that was the goal, living that lifestyle. There's no doubt that he wanted the festival to be a success. The downfall -- and possibly this is a result of growing up in the Instagram age -- [was that] they did the marketing before they figured out the logistics, which was disastrous, and you see that in the movie. They basically created the fantasy, the ultimate festival experience, and put that out without having done any of the work to understand what that meant.
Still, there are moments like that moment with Billy and Ja Rule on the beach when Billy says he's "selling a pipe dream to your average loser." It feels malicious, where in other moments he seems a little more naïve. Do you think he saw his customers as suckers?
Smith: I think Billy was really good at recognizing opportunity in his own life experience. With Magnises, he recognized that when he moved to New York, he felt like an outsider. He knew there would be other people who were having the same experience, so he could create this members club that allowed people to have a sense of community and understand where to go and what to do in New York City. From there, he's now moving into this other circle and seeing that everybody wants to live this certain lifestyle. He's going to the Bahamas, he's got a Maserati, he's flying on private planes. If he can sell that experience to people on Instagram, who are seeing influencers live those lives, than there's a market there. He was good at recognizing those opportunities in the world around him.