How do you top being part of the world’s largest fireworks display ever, a Guinness World Record no less, a display that launched over 500,000 fireworks in just over 6 minutes to a crowd of over a million people along 60 miles of coastline in Dubai? Wouldn’t any other display after that seem rather lame by comparison? Such is the life of John Sagaria. What most pyrotechnic professionals’ dream of doing, he is currently living. Whether it is winning an international fireworks competition in Hamburg, rubbing elbows with the rich and famous while shooting elaborate displays at the Atlantis “The Palm” Hotel, or wiring a pyrotechnic extravaganza in Trinidad, John Sagaria is truly a pyro’s pyro. In short, if there is a pyrotechnic “Greatest Show on Earth” being designed or fired anywhere, John Sagaria is probably in the thick of it.
John was born in the Bronx in New York in 1966 and graduated from high school in Rockland County. He still lives and works out of New York, but his pyrotechnic expertise now takes him all over the world. In addition to being in high demand for his pyrotechnic creativity and expertise, John is also the owner and CEO of Fireworks Extravaganza (fwextravaganza.com) which creates a wide variety of displays for an equally wide variety of audiences. From backyard weddings to Super Bowl stadiums, John designs, wires and displays them all. Oh, did I also mention he’s an Apple dealer/expert in New York as well? Yes, in addition to everything else, John is the CEO of Information Technology Corporation (ITC) where he is an Apple-certified computer specialist (Infotechcorporation.com). Honestly, does this man ever sleep?
John says his uncles were the ones who first introduced him to fireworks when he was a child. Every 4th of July John would watch his uncles shoot fireworks to celebrate the 4th of July (which wasn’t easy since fireworks were then and still are illegal in New York). His first personal fireworks purchase was a brick of firecrackers that cost him around $15 (11€). Then he spent $45 (32€) on his first bag of fireworks. “I was so happy,” he said, “I didn’t even care that I had been ripped off.” By the time he was in high school, his fascination with fireworks had escalated, and so had the amount he was willing to spend. He remembers his father not being happy about his son spending $475 (344€) of his money on illegal fireworks and having a truck unload 10 cases in front of their house.
In 1989, John obtained his ATF license and was firmly on his way to creating professional-quality shows. “Back then,” he says. “you didn’t need storage space, so I kept my fireworks in my office.” John’s first formal training with fireworks came from Vitale Fireworks in 1992. After completing his first class he was asked to shoot at the Mocatek Speedway in the Poconos, Pennsylvania. It was his first career shoot and he hand-fired it! In 1997, at the PGI convention in the Amana Colonies in Iowa, John was introduced to the incredible possibilities of computerized firing. It was there he got to watch Ken Nixon and Jack Harvey (working with Pyrodigital) perform a “Dreams” segment during a public display. Up to this point, it was the best show John had ever seen.
The following year, John did some fancy trading and managed to get ahold of a small FireOne™ 8-wire system with 10 modules and did several test shows. His first computerized professional FireOne™ show came in 1999 in Lancaster and Lititz, Pennsylvania on July 2nd and 3rd. He did it from the rooftop of a parking garage, and it was going well until it started to rain. John learned two important lessons that day: One, FireOne™ is not waterproof; and two, it is critically important to carry backup equipment.
“Sometimes I get a bigger reaction from a $4.00 strobe than from shells that cost me hundreds of dollars.”
The way John works now is rather unique. Instead of selling show directly to customers, John works for display companies. More than 15 display companies have used his services since he began. Sometimes John does everything from picking out the music tracks, to editing the program and orchestrating the “feel” of the show itself. Often he picks products from the display company’s inventories, but he may also set up his own show, pick his own fireworks and use his own crew.
When doing shows, John says, the important thing is to “think small.” He reminds us that even a 16-inch shell is made up almost entirely of small stars. “Having the best show doesn’t always mean having huge shells,” he says. “Sometimes I get a bigger reaction from a $4.00 strobe than from shells that cost me hundreds of dollars.”
John has produced award-winning shows for Shogun/Vulcan, and also for Dancing and Dominator. He travels to China regularly and thoroughly enjoys working directly with the factories there. John has also shot factory demos for Chinese companies at NFA conventions. He shot demos for Shogun/Vulcan in 2007, for example. These turned out to be high-pressure shows though, because he had to show off new products and produce a show in such a way as to generate sales.
Overall, John feels you can put together a wonderful fireworks show from almost any pool of materials. “Honestly, great design and choreography can make a great show in spite of mediocre product,” John says confidently. “You can use a variety of small devices in unison over a large area and create a display that looks spectacular.”
“Also important: test, test, test! Never use material in a choreographed show you haven’t thoroughly tested. You need to know everything precisely about the fireworks you’re using; especially their height and timing. Measure the site, too, and keep in mind the size of the shells you are using.”
“The ultimate goal,” John emphasizes, “is to make your fireworks display look like the sky is nothing more than a giant canvas. Fireworks are truly an art form, and we are the artists.” •