You probably remember Oren Aks as the often exasperated former FuckJerry employee who was featured in the Hulu documentary Fyre Fraud.
The graphic designer managed the disastrous festival’s social media accounts but quit the company about six months after the festival fell apart. After Hulu’s documentary was released, Twitter users voiced their support (and thirst) for him — even Chrissy Teigen gave him a shout out.
Although he’s settled in Barcelona at the moment, Aks is still proud of the work he did for Fyre, design-wise. He even still manages the official Fyre Festival Twitter account, and includes it in his online portfolio — with a disclaimer that says: “I am in no way affiliated with the mismanagement of the festival, I was only contracted in the start to consult & design.”
During a phone interview with Mashable, Aks chatted about when he realized the festival went to shit, why he left Jerry Media, and why he actually likes the work he did for Fyre.
I’ve seen stories that you’re running away from Fyre, but on your Instagram you’re just on vacation — can you just clear that up?
Just chilling, yeah. No running away.
So is this a vacation for you? What brought you to Barcelona?
It’s a little … I work remote. I’m a designer so I hop around. I’ll be in Tel Aviv soon, bouncing around the states, I just like to take my work on the road.
As someone who saw it [Fyre Festival] all go down, I think you would be more inclined to believe the Hulu documentary was more accurate than the Netflix one, but what were the biggest blind spots you saw in either documentary?
I think a lot of characters, on both sides, were leaning on specific sides of the story. Hulu had people that Netflix couldn’t, and vice versa. Hulu relied heavily on one team, or two teams, describing the story.
I’ve seen a lot of people complain that it was ethically slimy that FuckJerry was working on the Netflix documentary, considering their part in Fyre. What do you think of it?
It was just a client, any other agency would take on. There’s a certain time when a client is in … it puts you in a position that you need to decide what to do next. And at some point Jerry Media quit, and where we are now is a real question of “How do we handle the story?” You can fight it or you can just live with it.
But do you think it was possible to produce a well-balanced documentary, considering they had a stake in it?
Hmm. Yeah, I think they could have, if they really wanted to. They could have delved really deep into it. Both of these docs could have been even better if if people got really into it, and got really psychological. There’s really so much more both sides could have done, but it’s a light watch.
And why exactly did you leave the company?
There was a multitude of things, but in general I just felt like I was wasting my time there and that I could do everything that I was doing there on my own, that I was just not feeling the energy of my coworkers. Things were just boring me, I was bored and felt mistreated.
What do you mean by mistreated?
Not treated the way I wanted to be in the office. The environment was just hostile sometimes, in these weird office-y ways. Salary-wise, I was asking for raises and never getting anything. No benefits, since the day I started there, zero insurance.
Those are just basic things, those aren’t even personal-level requests.
Do you remember an exact point when you were working on the festival but you realized it was going to shit?
There were a few key points that I really put things into question. The moment it really hit, though, was when we arrived and I saw it in person.
But your website still shows off the design you came up with for Fyre’s social media, like that Instagram feed. Are you still proud of the work you did for it?
Yeah, I think as a design piece, I’m proud of it on its own. I don’t like what has happened after or because of it, but I think as a standalone it’s a pretty cool thing that I’ve done.
So you stayed on at Jerry Media after the festival anyway. Why?
I tried to work it out. I had stock in the company and I felt like it would be a shame to leave over some short term, petty feelings, and maybe I can keep working on it because I want to be here for the long run. But after a while, the money just didn’t make sense for how I felt.
What do you think about FuckJerry donating what they made from the festival to the Bahamian restaurant owner who wasn’t paid? Do you think it was genuine, or do you think it was just a PR stunt?
I think it was … I think it was both. He’s [Elliot Tebele] not a bad human, but I think the timing … it was also done in a weird way. But whatever, it doesn’t matter. It was done. It was interesting to see now, I’m curious how they feel.
What do you mean?
It’s just interesting working on something and then having to donate everything you worked for. I didn’t do this for money, Hulu never paid me. For me it was time and money put into this.
Speaking of that, why did you agree to be in the Hulu doc?
Basically to tell the truth! I knew the Netflix doc was coming out, and I didn’t want my story to be unheard. I couldn’t go into meetings and show this product off, it had a bad taboo to it. I wanted to clear the air and make sure future clients were like, cool with it, and understand it, and my career is not over forever because of it.
I’ve been thinking of ways to show it on my website and my portfolio, and it’s complicate. You have to educate somebody and a whole industry just to be like, “See, now that you understand marketing, it’s fine!”
So it’s hard to do that in a really quick combover of your website.
Before the documentary come out, did you advertise the fact that you were involved in Fyre Festival?
Yeah, it was like, my shining jewel. I was always posting about progress on Instagram, doing polls on what design I should go with. Just having fun with people who are into my work, or my friends.
And the second it all went down, everyone, even the influencers, took their orange squares off and … we were watching it in the office, we were watching the internet just take everything down. We were like, we have to make sure we screenshot everything. Top level influencers took theirs down. Mid-range influencers took them down.
[After the] fallout, people definitely came out the woodwork after I deleted it and said, “Hey, I saw this thing on your Instagram, weren’t you part of this thing?”
How did you usually respond to that? Have you ever like, hid the fact that you were part of it?
Not hid, but just like, not talked about it. I had a meeting for a pitch about something that would be perfectly aligned with what I did there, and I just left it out. Just telling myself that I’ll be fine, even without this great addition to it, I’ll be alright.
But then other times I’ve worked with some younger entrepreneurs who did understand it and will hire me specifically … for mentality of how we got things done.
In a legal sense! Haha, working hard in a legal sense.
Yeah! There’s been a lot of criticism of FuckJerry stealing content, and stealing posts for ads. What’s your stance on that, from someone who’s worked so heavily in social media?
It’s one of those things, I came from a very traditional design background. Things were copyrighted, and you owned your work, and people that ripped you off are really bad. So it was hard for me in the beginning to be like, “Here’s your task. You have X, Y, and Z to accomplish for this new account.”
And now, I’m thinking, I’m just gonna illustrate it. I’m gonna do my own design stuff.
They were like, “Yeah, this is great and all, but just do it quicker.”
So the point is that, my background [at Thrillist] was Getty and stock images, just having this very limited amount of what I could and couldn’t do, and then the week after just being like “Do whatever you want.”
Do you feel like what you’re doing now is more fulfilling?
Yeah, slightly so. I’m not working as much as I’d like to be. I’m taking it slower, which is nice … but I’m also ready for bigger projects.
When looking for projects, what are the red flags you look for to prevent another Fyre Festival?
I think these days what I’m looking for is management. It’s a lot about management, who’s in charge, what are they saying, how are they backing it up? It’s a major, major thing that I never looked at in jobs before.
I’m just kind of doing my own little research on that end.
Anything else you wanted to say?
Just in general, the next thing I’m working on is getting out there. Working on some projects that do good, whatever that looks like in the arts.
This interview has been edited for clarity.