Behind The Fireworks – Interview With Producer Of Country’s Largest Fireworks Display

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CBS Local: How do you decide how to order the fireworks? What goes best with what? What follows what to make the most dramatic effect?

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New York (Photo Credit: Yana Paskova/Getty Images)

Souza: That’s really where the art form comes into play. You only get one chance, and that’s the frustrating part about fireworks. Doing graphics on a computer, you can hit delete, erase or undo. With the fireworks show, particularly one on live television, you don’t get a second chance. What I touched on earlier is that there’s this dream, this vision in your mind. When I watched last year’s show, there were things that I really liked, and there were some things where I thought, ‘gosh, we could really add this thing to it and enhance that more and make it even better.’

For instance, this year there’s a song called ‘Sparks Fly’ from Taylor Swift. It’s a fun song … a toe-tapping fun song that is in this year’s show… So we wanted fireworks that moved and sort of swayed, like if you were listening to the song, you might sway, sort of dancing. It had color in it. But it had this bright and hot sensation to it. Orange is a new color we’re bringing out this year, and we’re using it for that song. But we’re also blending it with red. So it’s red hot and orange hot. ‘Ignite the Night’ is the theme of the show, and that touches on that, because it’s red hot, orange hot. And the combination of those two is almost like a raspberry sherbet. It was fun. So that’s new this year.

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There is another scene in there where we do what we call a falling leaves sequence. There’s purple and green and yellow and red and white cascades that are real small, and they hang in the air for about eight seconds. It just makes this falling sequence that is so slow and so gentle, yet it plays well with the music. It’s the beginning of ‘God Bless the USA’ by Lee Greenwood. So this year, we took those falling leaves, and we added this fan of rainbow colors coming up to it. So it’s coming up very slowly below and then from up above slowly cascades down the other complementary rainbow colors. I’m really looking forward to that.

We try to match the music for what the music feels like to us. We try to find the pace of the music and match the firework to that, so that you don’t over-blast the sky. Too much going on is really just blowing up the sky. We want to make a tasteful presentation so you can appreciate the quality of the fireworks. Use the technology and the space and the angles of mortars on the barge to spread the fireworks wider across the sky. We basically will fill over a mile’s length of river with fireworks from four barges. It really opens up this big venue of fireworks for everybody to see that will hopefully match and blend to the feeling of the song, whether it be fun or patriotic or dancing or passionate.

CBS Local: Do you pick the music, or is the music chosen for you?

Souza: What’s really fun this year is that America picked the music. We worked with Macy’s this year. We went back and looked at some of our favorite songs that we’ve ever done fireworks to over the years, and asked America to vote on the website, ‘what songs did you think were the best?’ And actually, the number one song was ‘America the Beautiful’ by Ray Charles. It’s right up there in the beginning after the fanfare in the show. That was the one that America chose. There were a lot of songs in this year’s show that were voted on by the people in America that said that these are the ones that they liked. And we were able to work those into the show. The theme is ‘Ignite the Night,’ and that’s what we’re bringing out there for everybody to see, is the way we’re igniting the fireworks to the Fourth of July and blending that to the music.

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New York – The Golden Mile (Photo Courtesy of Pyro Spectaculars, Inc. © 2012)

CBS Local: What style of music and fireworks do you find go best with the Fourth of July?

Souza: I think you can’t have a Fourth of July show without having a John Philip Sousa march. Songs like ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever,’ it has to be there. And you’ve gotta put ‘God Bless America.’ And this year we have another really exciting moment. Somebody was chosen on the website, who sent in their version of the National Anthem. And that has been put into the show this year. It’s somebody who was given the music online, and they listened, and they sent in their recording. And they were selected to record that for the show this year. We’re going to take somebody from America, who wanted their version out there, and they’re going to have fireworks blended to that.

I think the Fourth of July is not the same without red, white and blue, without whistles and poppers and things that blend to the great patriotic music that we have. I really like the ‘Yankee Doodle’ song, just because it’s kind of crazy. It’s more than just a red, white and blue. We add whistles and noise and swirling serpents and things to go along with the piccolos in the song. So I think that’s fun, and I like fun fireworks. But I also like the really passionate moments.

On the Macy’s show, we’ve always made a big point of building up what we call ‘The Golden Mile.’ And we always find a song each year that will match what we want to do with this Golden Mile, which is a mile-long length of the river that we just fill with about 90 seconds of gold glimmering cascades that burst from 1000 feet down to the water. And it is beyond ‘oh’ and ‘ah’ to people. It just captures you. And to be able to look around and watch people’s faces during that. The whole area, 3 million people on the shore, everywhere you look, they’re mesmerized to the sky. That feeling that you’ve been able to bring to people is really what drives me to want to do this. We capture them with that moment… and then ‘boom,’ into the finale. It’s just so fun to be able to do that, and then see the world sort of stop for that 30 minutes in time and say, ‘wow, that was amazing.’ And the enthusiasm and the patriotism that’s instilled afterwards is beyond description.

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