Fireworks Displays – General Advice

Planning your display and choosing the right fireworks is an essential part of the process whether you are having a small back garden party or putting on a large public show. This article runs through some general advice that will help you get started before you have a look at the more specific guides in this section.

 

Getting started

The articles in this section assume you are already familiar with the various types of fireworks and what they do. If you are not, have a look at the Beginner’s Guides section. It is also assumed that you are doing your own firework display; if you are still unsure whether you need to buy your own, or instead employ a professional team to do everything for you, have a look at the DIY or Professional? article.

 

Planning your display

The fireworks you should use in a display are dependent on what type of display you are doing and who the display is for. In your planning stage you should take into account the following:

The event: What type of firework event is it? What are you celebrating? Your display will be more effective if some (not necessarily all) of it is relevant to the occasion.

The venue: How big is your venue? Can you use display (25m) fireworks? Do you have space for fall out? How will you control or marshal the crowd? Big venues (fields etc.) with large fall out areas offer the most scope. Smaller venues might restrict the use of certain fireworks. Venues in built up areas offer the most problems with fall out, for example from large display rockets.

The time and date: Is it a late display? Is it out of season when no one would expect fireworks? A late night display well away from Nov 5th is the worst in terms of the public’s reaction to it. You might need to make sure such a display is very short (or quiet). Guy Fawkes displays offer the best time to display with little constraints on noise and duration on Nov 5th itself.

The budget: How much money do you have for the fireworks? Bigger budgets offer the most flexibility, but have you allowed some budget for safety gear, timber, clingfilm, tape, bin bags, portfires, transport and so on? The more fireworks you have, the more supporting materials you will need.

Consumer Fireworks

Saturated sky-filling effects from a big fan cake

The number of firers: How many firers do you have? A small number of firers works best when they have a smaller number of larger fireworks. A larger number of firers can work with lots of smaller fireworks (multiple and overlapped firing). Never overstretch your firing capability.

Public or private: Will members of the public be present? If so you have extra obligations (and expense) to consider. Insurance is a must and can take out a significant chunk of your budget. You will need to have people in control of the crowd too. Private displays are less restrictive, but remember, if your fireworks damage someone else’s property you could still be sued.

If you are putting on a public display, the DTI provide some good additional reading resources. The main DTI fireworks web page is here and a list of publications is here. For example, a document covering the organising of fireworks displays is here. (Please contact UKFR if any of these links become out of date or missing, so they can be updated).

 

Misconceptions

There are a number of misconceptions regarding firework displays particularly if it is your first time.

You should get as many fireworks as you can for your budget

WRONG! Quality is the issue here, not quantity. Get the best fireworks, and get the best fireworks for your display. Everyone started here too, ending up with an excessive amount of average fireworks rather than a smaller number of the best fireworks. Ten top quality, near professional fireworks will thrill the crowd more than twenty average ones. Quality wins over quantity EVERY time.

Your display should last as long as possible

WRONG! It is human nature to feel worried that your five minute display will cost £500 and that means you are burning £100 a minute. It is human nature to then think about stretching this out to last half an hour instead. NO! In firework terms, a budget of £100 a minute is very realistic for a near professional display.

As soon as you start making your fireworks display last too long, the effect thins out, gaps creep in, the crowd gets bored and you’ve achieved much less impact for the same money. If you really do want to spend money on fireworks, and yes this means burning your money in a short time, at least get it right!

Back garden displays are the most tolerant to longer durations because of their informal nature. But for most other displays, and venues, shorter is better. To even think about 10-15 mins or more, in a big venue, look at a budget of around £1000 plus. Complete packs or kits of fireworks that claim 30 minutes duration are all very well but have you actually stood in the freezing cold for half an hour watching a display that is one firework, then a gap, then another, repeat? It ain’t as much fun as seeing a constant, busy, engaging and loud display fired in half the time. Half the duration = double the impact. If you’re still not convinced then consider why most professional displays are only 5-10 minutes long.

Safety is only important to make sure no-one gets hurt

WRONG! It goes without say that your aim is to ensure there are no accidents. But this is NOT the only benefit of a safe display. A safe display means the fireworks are planned, laid out and set up prior to firing. That means your firers can get the right fireworks going at the right time and your display looks better. A safe display means lighting the fireworks with portfires, so you’ll have less delays due to fuses not lighting, so your display looks better.

Fireworks Display

You are responsible for the safety of your crowd!

Virtually every safety measure you can take has an added benefit of enhancing your display too! So, never think of firework safety as a necessary evil. It WILL help your display look better. Include safety in your planning (and costs) from the beginning. See the Using Fireworks section of this site for comprehensive safety advice.

Fireworks won’t work in the rain

WRONG! You can easily waterproof fireworks (and this is recommended anyway to protect from dew as it gets dark) with bin bags or clingfilm. The only thing that rain dampens is the audience’s resolve! Don’t let the fear of bad weather worry you in the planning stages. But make sure you budget for the materials needed.

The safety distance is not important

WRONG! The safety distance on a firework is there for a reason. Observe it. This is not just a safety issue. If there was an incident, no matter how small, and you did not observe the correct safety distance it could have other implications. Insurance cover might be voided for a start.

You should buy lots of big, shiny display rockets

WRONG! There is a place for big rockets if you have the space for them to fall in, and they are very good in large venues or to create spectacular aerial effects. But the bulk of your display should be with better value cakes and candles. A £15 cake might last 30-60 seconds. A £15 rocket will have an effect that will rarely exceed 5 seconds. Budget carefully!

 

The structure

How should you start your display? How should you end it? What order should you fire your pyro in? All common questions asked by thousands of enthusiasts each year.

An exact firing order is not as important as you might think. As long as your display has a beginning, rotates effects, has as few gaps as possible, and a distinct ending, you’re well on the way to pulling off a good one. Remember that most of the spectators are fireworks lay people. They don’t know whether cake A should have been fired before cake B. If you accidentally fire cake C and D together, so what? The crowd will see a better effect!

If you gave ten different firework displayers the same list of fireworks and asked them to work out a firing order, you would get ten different lists back! So concentrate on getting the general structure of the display right rather than worry too much about individual itrems. If you follow the basic rules for the overall display, then there are no right or wrong firing orders.

You’d be amazed at the number of displays where the planned order goes wrong and the crowd never noticed! Many, many displays have some sections where items are fired out of order but it can make little difference in the grand scheme of things.

In general a display can be split into three sections:

The beginning

Many displayers like to sock it to the crowd with a loud opening. A couple of big rockets or a good cake to open the display. This has the advantage of getting everyone’s attention. Others prefer to start quietly, and build the display up gradually. Good quiet openers include fountains and strobes. A good way to mix both opening techniques is to start with strobes or fountains then fire some cakes to give an effect overhead. The fountains settle the crowd down and the cakes pack a punch that says “We’re here!”.

The middle

The bulk of your display should be a mix of effects. Rotate your fireworks so that no one section or effect goes on too long. A minute or so of one effect is long enough, then move onto something else. Avoid huge barrages of effects in the middle unless your finale can match or exceed the effect. Some displayers like to build things up, then have a quiet section, then build it up again. Others prefer to have a steady increase in pace as you near the end.

Fireworks

Include a wide variety of effects to keep the audience interested

The end

This is  arguably the most important part, because a blinding ending can gloss over any slackness earlier on. People will remember a good ending. Generally, most displayers wheel out some bigger fireworks for the end such as fan cakes or big bore cake barrages. Big display rockets will fill the sky. If you can, use several of each firework and add some noisy ones too. The end should really rock. It should be bigger, bolder and louder than any preceding part of your display.

The very end

You might want something to say “That’s all”. Professionals frequently fill the sky with a hanging gold willow effect, something you can replicate with gold willow rockets. Or, some lancework that says “GOODNIGHT”.

Unless you have a specific reason for doing it, try and avoid the following in a display:

  • Gaps: The scourge of any fireworks display. Gaps break pace, ruin impact and give the audience false signals that the display might have ended. Avoid gaps like the plague. With consumer fireworks, pinpoint timing of fireworks is not possible. So, build in some overlaps with your fireworks. Have the next ones start before the current ones end.
  • Lingering on one effect too long: Attention spans are generally short and even shorter if spectators are cold, have screaming kids, or a warm inviting bar to get back too. Keep effects rotating. Don’t have lots of same type of effects or fireworks back to back. Mix them up a bit.
  • A thin or weak ending: Your finale must pack a punch. Beware letting off single fireworks with long durations at the same time as shorter ones. The bulk of your finale will end leaving a single firework lingering on its own, now that can really kill an ending.

 

Further information

With the basics covered you should now pick an option from this section (“Choosing Fireworks” in the menu at the top) that best matches your display.

If your display is not covered here, feel free to ask in the busy UKFR Fireworks Forum. With over 1000 members it’s highly likely someone can help.

When you are ready to buy your fireworks, always give priority to UKFR advertisers and those listed on the Buy Fireworks page (find out why).  Once you have purchased your fireworks head over to the “Using Fireworks” section for expert advice on how to set them up and let them off.

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