Meet the Pro Pyro Behind The Biggest Fireworks Show in The Country
He spends millions of dollars of other people's money to blow stuff up for your enjoyment.
His headquarters are in an old WWII munitions facility an hour's drive east of Los Angeles. Here he coordinates some of the grandest of fireworks shows, like the mile-wide aerial spectacle that will light up the New York City skyline tonight. Jim Souza, fourth generation pyro and CEO of Pyro Spectaculars, took a few minutes to school us on the difference between a "dud" and a "misfire," and shared some of the tricks of the trade that he stores deep in a vault in the desert.
GOOD: You guys do the Macy's 4th of July show and lots of other huge displays. How long does it take to plan one of those?
JIM SOUZA: At a minimum, a year. We are in development right now on designs and effects for the Macy's 2013 show. Working with the Macy's creative and production team we plan music, timing, sequence, effects, etc. We also do extensive testing in the California desert to be sure all of our shows—especially Macy's, largest show in the nation—gets the best and the brightest.
GOOD: Where are your fireworks from?
SOUZA: We have a network of thirteen suppliers from around the world. We go on purchasing trips in Europe, South and Central America, Asia, and, of course, North America. Most of our shells are built to our specifications in China, Japan, Portugal, Germany, and France.
GOOD: How have you seen technology advance over the course of your career?
SOUZA: More than you can imagine. We fuse the ancient art of pyrotechnics with modern technology to provide the best show in the safest manner possible. By using computers, digital signals, simulation software and other tools, we constantly improve and update our abilities. We created HD Fireworks™, the first PyroMusical™(everything fired in split-second synchronization with the musical score), the Sky Concert™ (with music broadcast city-wide and state-of-the-art communications giving us command and control of spectacular shows of ever-growing scope and magnitude). We've come a long way from grampa touching a fuse with a road flare then running like the devil!
GOOD: How often do you have duds and what happens to them?
SOUZA: Because of our extensive testing we have very few duds. Just for clarification, a dud is a shell that leaves the mortar, but does not perform properly in the sky. It may fall to the ground unexploded. A misfire is a shell that for whatever reason is left in the mortar. In both cases, consistent with our safety-first approach, and to comply with all fire safety regulations, the shell is thoroughly doused and disposed of as directed by applicable fire codes. Our pyrotechnicians and the local fire inspectors walk the entire site after the show to locate and deal with any possible duds or misfires.
GOOD: Is there such a thing as a tough crowd-you know like boos and hisses if people aren't satisfied?
I have learned that about the only time you may get some boos is if it gets dark and the fireworks haven't started.
GOOD: How did you get into the job?
SOUZA: I was born into it. We are a five-generation fireworks family. In the early 1900s my great grandfather, Manuel de Sousa, emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area and became known as "Papagayo" (the parrot) because of the amazing bright colors he created with fireworks in the sky. His son, my grandfather, Alfred, was known as "the chemist" because he studied and understood all the formulas and expanded the family fireworks "recipe book" which I still have in a secure vault today. My dad, Bob, brought us into the modern era with an emphasis on safety and professionalism ingrained into each and every show. I guess you'd say my generation is known for innovation, creativity, and technology. I'm so proud that my sons Paul and Christopher have become the 21st Century rock stars of the industry.
GOOD: What's the most expensive fireworks show you've worked on?
SOUZA: We were proud to produce the first million dollar fireworks show thirty years ago. With some of the massive 4th of July shows, Olympic Games, Super Bowls, and "once-in-a-lifetime" shows, budgets have a way of growing. Our "once-in-a-lifetime" show last month for the Golden Gate Bridge's 75th Anniversary was truly epic. I've never been more proud. We do not release the cost of any shows.
GOOD: You guys get paid to blow things up with other people's money. Sound like a pretty good job.
It's the best job in the world. To make a living creating unique and exciting pageantry in the sky is a dream come true.
Photos courtesy of Pyro Spectaculars By Souza