"More than any other occupation on earth, kids in America say they want to be famous influencers," says first-time director Nick Bilton in the trailer of his new HBO documentary (which he also wrote and produced), Fake Famous. Debuting tonight, Feb. 2, the film explores the complex world of Instagram stardom and what it takes to become — and remain — a social media sensation.
The hour-and-a-half long film chronicles Bilton's social experiment in which he selects three relatively unknown individuals out of a casting call of 4,000 — aspiring actor Dominique Druckman, fashion designer Chris Bailey, and real estate assistant Wylie Heiner — and attempts to grow their meager Instagram followings. With the help of a few master hair stylists, professional (and highly deceptive) photo shoots, and thousands of purchased fake IG followers, this digital Cinderella story comes to life as the show's participants experience the highs and lows of online fame, and what's really behind the opulent moments that launched FOMO culture.
Ever wonder about those glossy, perfectly lit images of influencers "relaxing" at a day spa or gazing out a private jet? Bilton demonstrates how easy it actually is to fake these shots on a budget. In lieu of a fancy spa setting, the director opts for a kiddie pool filled with flower petals in his own backyard. And that first-class flight with champagne in hand? Just rent a fake private jet studio for a whopping $50 an hour and you're in business.
"Peeling back the layers to reveal what’s really happening behind the scenes of influencer fame, Fake Famous illuminates our obsession with the numbers of likes, followers, and favorites we get, and how most of our online world is much more fabricated than we realize," reads an HBO press release on the new doc.
The real kicker is the thousands of bots purchased by Bilton to make his subjects appear more popular, a move that has long been used by celebrities, brands, and (of course) aspiring influencers. Bilton actually helped Druckman get to 250,000 Instagram followers. #blessed
But, what happens when you have the pretty photos, hundreds of thousands of followers, and brands knocking down your door with free stuff? Well, in addition to the rapid climb to the top, Bilton shows the anxiety, insecurity, and frustration that one can experience once they get there. And, it's not always picture perfect.
Fake Famous is available for streaming now on HBOMax.