Original Post -- http://www.newyork.com/articles/jobs/gary-souza-the-explosive-career-of-a-fireworks-mastermind-75598/
A pyrotechnics wiz takes us behind the scenes at the 38th Annual Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks Show -- for insight, history and some eye-popping facts
Macy’s hugely popular 4th of July fireworks extravaganza in New York City is a sight to behold in person or on television. Spend some time with the man who makes the whole thing come together, however, and you’ll really be blown away from the sheer enormity and complexity of it all.
A fourth generation rocket man, Gary Souza is the vice president of Pyro Spectaculars by Souza, the country’s preeminent pyrotechnical company. (His older brother James is the president and CEO, and his sister Nancy and brother-in-law Ian help run the business too.) Theirs is an elite firm that has designed and implemented breathtaking light shows for the Olympics, various Super Bowls and numerous historic blowouts, including the 100th and 125th anniversaries of the Statue of Liberty.
While the company produces wildly colorful, state-of-the-art spectaculars around the world all year long, Gary Souza’s biggest job is overseeing one of the outfit’s premier events: the Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks Show, which will return to the East River from the Hudson this summer for the first time since 2008.
We recently spoke with Souza to learn a bit more about snowball shells, glitter comets and zipping stars, and the man has got some pretty amazing tricks up his sleeve for the 2014 festivities.
Your great-grandfather, Manuel de Souza, got this whole thing started, and now you’re known as America’s Fireworks Family. How did it all begin?
It really started for us back in the early 1900s as part of these small religious festivals and carnivals that Portuguese immigrants in the San Francisco area would throw, featuring native foods, music and entertainment. My great-grandfather was involved in the entertainment part of it. He wanted to make things more exciting for the people, so he started using fireworks. He’d mix them up on the stove in the kitchen while the family was cooking or eating meals or drinking wine. That’s really how it all began. And then my grandfather, Alfred Souza, got into animation, mixing fireworks with animated features in the sky. There were these cool “set pieces” that told little stories, like a mama elephant bathing her baby with her trunk moving, while “spraying” water with lights. It’s interesting, the visions they all had are very similar to what we’re doing these days, only now we do it with more modern technology, and we’re pushing the effects to make them more interesting for today’s audiences.
When did the boom times begin, as it were?
My dad really started the modern business that grew into Pyro Spectaculars by Souza in the late 60s, and it became a full-time business for the family. There weren’t any large-scale fireworks companies around at the time. We were the first. We did shows with Disneyland and Disney World and other theme parks and the Olympics. And soon, there was this need for higher-technology productions. And with Dad’s insistence on safer productions [his great-grandfather lost an arm picking up a shell after a show, and his father was later injured too], we moved into electronic shows and eventually started using computers.
What was your first “cool job” in the family business?
My summertime as a kid was all about hanging out with my dad when he was working, ever since I was 8. That was my parents’ version of babysitting. But my best cool job as a kid was to take scraps of unexploded fireworks at the end of the day and make my own little bomb, and then take it to the test area and set it off to see what I’d created. That was really fun.