Consumer Fireworks In A Pro Show

Consumer Fireworks In a Pro Show

By: Matthew Kleinmann

As many of the followers of this blog know, I shoot fireworks professionally, and there is no question that the big guns as we call them get me excited.  However, this summer I had the good fortune to work on two shows that were a little bit unique.

First they were both all electronically fired, but secondly, an entire segment of one of the shows, and almost the entirety of the other show, were all done with consumer fireworks.  That is all stuff that you can go down to Mess’s and buy right over the counter.  Swish that around in your head.  These were not small backyard shows, but real professional shows, attended by hundreds of people, and they were shot with consumer fireworks that you, the consumer, can buy.

In the first case, it was a duplication of a contest entry from a Pyro Guild International (PGI) competition.  An entire segment that was choreographed to music and was just breathtaking..  Every year the PGI has a competition that requires that all of the product be consumer grade.  Admittedly the budget for this display may have been a bit out of the reach of your average backyard shooter as there were a *lot* of consumer fireworks involved, but there are some lessons to be learned nonetheless.

One thing that was apparent to everybody was that the consumer fireworks segment of the show was right up front and center.  A lot of the fireworks experience is perspective, and the setback for consumer fireworks are far less than for commercial fireworks.  The biggest of the “big guns” for example, by law have to be at least 840 feet away from the audience.

The other show was in a confined space and there was just no way we could use any big guns, but we were able to make the most out of it because of the minimum setbacks required for consumer fireworks.  One thing that was apparent in this show was that it had a lot of cool ground effects.  This was a great example of mixing it up!

One very common theme was that in both shows the effects were all well known and the layout was very exact.  We made quite a few adjustments to get them perfect.

I have a few takeaways from these..


1)You can do a pro fireworks show with only consumer fireworks.


2)Go wide!  That is spread things across the entire field.  Maximize the horizontal space.


3)Shoot things in pairs or triplets.  Have like effects on the left and right and something interesting in the center.  This works with going wide.


4)Mix how you shoot.  While people like the right left and center type effects, if every effect is like that it gets old and less impressive.


5)Be creative with “burn times”  That is, use a pair of short cakes on the right and left, and a long burning wheel in the center, so the wheel just gets going as the cakes burn out.  This works well with mixing how you shoot.


6)Mix high and low.  Mix ground and aerial effects.  People love spinners, fountains and strobes, but mix them with and between things in the air.  Maximize your vertical space.


7)Know what you shoot, and plan!  Watch your placement and know your effects.  One thing that really amazed me about the award winning display re-enactment was the precision of the angeling and spacing of the effects.  The only way you will get a handle on this is to buy some and try them and take notes.    Watching two fan cakes go back and forth and criss cross at the height of their arcs is a really memorable effect.  The only way to get a handle on that is to buy a few of the effects and measure how far and high they go, and work the spacing out.


8)Stake things down!  Stake your effects to the ground or or tape your effects to a heavy frame.   When you precision align things you don’t want them moving,  be it from the charges in the effect itself, or you or a fellow pyro tripping over a wire.


9)E Fire!  It is the only way to be in 3 places at once.  This also allows you to see more of the show and have much better control over the timing.


10) Be safe.  Dress like a pro shooter, and act like a pro shooter, and treat your body, your  field and the effects and the setbacks seriously.  Shoot responsibly.


11) And with all of that said, Have Fun! 

BTW, the season for fireworks is far from over!  Fall is a great time for fireworks.  The air is crisp, the sky is often clear, and it just seems to get much darker than in the summer. As an added bonus, it gets dark earlier.  No more waiting for 10PM to roll around before your canvas is really black to shoot against. Happy shooting! 

Matthew Kleinmann  Is a professional, licensed pyrotechnician and a staff writer for Mess’s Fireworks