Fireworks are a Fourth of July tradition, dating back to the first anniversary of Independence Day in 1777. (Fireworks were actually invented centuries before.) Displays are held in cities and towns all across this great land of ours.
The biggest Fourth of July fireworks celebration takes place in New York City each year. The sky lights up over the Hudson River, which divides Manhattan and New Jersey, creating a magnificent spectacle seen for miles around.
We interviewed Gary Souza, vice president of Pyro Spectaculars, the company that stages the Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks. He is in charge of designing and producing the event, as well as others along the east coast.
CBS Local: What is you role with Pyro Spectaculars?
Souza: I am one the family member owners of the company and the Vice President, and my main focus is working on the design and production of the Macy’s 4th of July fireworks and all other events that we participate in on the East Coast.
CBS Local: In addition to the Macy’s fireworks, what other ones do you handle?
Souza: I am mostly involved with what we do with the East Coast and the Macy’s contracts. So whenever we do something with the parade, closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange. Those are what I’ve been mostly involved with. And the Macy’s job really takes time… it’s a full year project. So that’s why I am assigned to exclusively work with that show. Macy’s, being biggest show in America, it’s the show that sets the tone for the rest of our displays. We go out and start to acquire product and look for new and exciting products to use in the show. We’re always challenged, and have been for the nearly 30 years we’ve been involved with Macy’s, to find the biggest and the best and the most exciting and the most technologically advanced products and presentation that we can. So we’re always looking for that, and we are shopping around the world. And that process really starts in the fall. It really runs through until today… we are getting ready to send all the trucks out to New York.
CBS Local: So your company started planning the Fourth of July fireworks along about September, October of 2011?
Souza: The actual process starts while we are watching the show from last year… It all is sort of like a dream… It’s a vision in your mind. Right now I have a mind full of visions, scenes that we’ve been working on that tie in with the music of the show. So you play that over and over in your mind and then go back to it and use the computers to try to tweak things to try to make it look more like what you’re envisioning and make sure it’s what you’re wanting to see. And then that dream becomes a movie that you get to watch on July 4. And at that time we can say, the performance could have been better if we did this… Either we had too much or too little or other ways we can put things together and present them in a way that it would be more exciting. And that’s where it starts.
Then we take a couple of weeks off to let your mind relax, and then when you go off in the fall with artwork, drawings and discussions and collaborations with the people that put things together for our company. We’ll then take that information and go out to the manufacturers and start the process of buying and acquiring that product because fireworks take a long time to make… It’s not something that you can go down to the local store and pick up an extra pound or a few more. If you’re out of them, you’re out of them, and you’re out of them for months. The process of making one firework can take two to three weeks. The process of drying the stars that are going to make the effect… you have to mix it, roll it, let it dry, put the next layer on, let it dry, then go to the next layer. And then you take all the stars that are going into the effect, and you put them in the shell casing, wrap that up in paper-maché-type glue and then let it get hard and dry again. And then it has to be shipped and brought to wherever you’re going to use them. So it’s quite a big process that goes into getting to July 4th.
CBS Local: Do you go to your suppliers with specific requests or do you go see who has what and then pick from what’s available? Or is it a combination of that?
Souza: It’s a combination of knowing what we would like, knowing what that manufacturer makes. And then it’s presenting those ideas and saying, ‘well, this is how we like it.’ And so it’s giving them the specifications, because what makes the Macy’s show so unique is that it has fireworks, but some of the fireworks we use will last 17 seconds in duration. The less expensive, just booms and bangs and the ones that you might see around town, they burn out very quickly. But when you’re doing a show that is on national television with HD cameras, it really will pick up all of the little things in there that are great if you have them. And if you don’t, it will pick up all the flaws. And you need to get brighteners, because it will show the colors. The stars, they need to burn bright, and they need to last for awhile.
We use a lot of shells that have color that show up well on television. So if you have something that burns out quickly, it doesn’t present very well. So we have the live audience as well as the television audience, so it’s very important that we have the fireworks that have a blend of both. So the fireworks that we use, if you pay attention to them, they have multiple lives. They will burst, sometimes burn out, reignite and come back or sometimes just hang and cascade and burn from a thousand feet all the way down to the water’s edge before they burn out, often times changing color along the way.
So that type of firework, each one of those little things you see burning, is a star that was handmade and it has different layers, almost like a jawbreaker, different layers of powders within so they can have that effect. And the longer the duration, the bigger the star. And that’s where it gets difficult to kinda match and blend. What’s the best for the live audience? What’s the best for telecast? And how do you fit all that onto one barge, which is basically the size of a postage stamp, to make that happen out in the river?