BUFORD - Nine hundred shells. Six hundred shots. One hundred and fifty hours of setup. Sixty hours of transportation. Eight strong men and women armed with yards of electrical cable.
All for a 17-minute Fourth of July fireworks show.
Tonight, as you gaze up at the red peony shells, white chrysanthemums and the blue, four-direction crossettes exploding over the Mall of Georgia parking lot, perhaps you might spot a cheery woman with a mixerboard and a laptop at the stage. Her name's Stacy Tyson, she's probably running on no sleep and she's a big reason for your spectacular July Fourth display.
But for Tyson, the Pyrotecnico employee directing the show, tonight's fireworks show isn't only special because it's the largest one she does in the summer; it's also a family tradition.
"My dad used to put on the hometown fireworks," said Tyson, who is working the Mall of Georgia's pyrotechnics for the fourth year. "What people don't realize is that it's just a lot of time."
The show is scripted, meaning that specific fireworks correlate to words and feelings evoked by the song. The script was prepared last week with the computer program called 'Nighthawk,' which can time fireworks to ignite within hundredths of a second of each other.
"It's quicker than the eye can see," Tyson said. The fireworks are set in time to the music through timecode, frequencies inaudible to the audience that the firing panel picks up. The time code frequencies on the soundtrack tell the fireworks when to fire. The Pyrodigital System, the name of the computer-operated precision shooting system, took 30 hours to program and runs on a 16-page script that specifies positioning, caliber and type of firework in the order that they will go off to each song.
Though she knows types of fireworks like colors of M&M's, Tyson's favorite effect is "crowning the sky" - where several brocaded crown shells burst to create the effect of 24-karat gold sparkles falling to the earth. "They break really soft and it's easy to layer them," Tyson said. "It'll look like it's about to fall right on you."
But however dazzling they are, planning safety for more than 2,000 exploding fireworks is no picnic.
"When it's dry like it has been, we spray water all over for the show," Tyson said. "We go for prevention, not containment." Two people will stay with the firetruck at the firing ground throughout the show. Since the show is entirely electronically controlled, the chance of error is slim to none. Any problem with a faulty firework that doesn't fire or explodes too soon will not even be noticeable, Tyson said. Last year, Pyrotecnico found and had to replace a faulty shipment of fireworks within weeks before July 4.
"But Pyrotecnico doesn't let things mess up more than once," Tyson said.
The preparation for tonight's show started last April and May, when Pyrotecnico placed the order for fireworks to manufacturers in China. This year, they have more Yeng Feng fireworks, which means more color and a better show for us, according to Tyson. Different metals in the fireworks cause the varied colors in the sky, and the tubes, called mortars, took days to set up and stuff with the shells. However, after the salutes go off at the finale of tonight's show, Tyson's fireworks season is far from over.
"There's a lot more to it than the fourth," said Tyson. "It's fireworks season." For the rest of the summer, Tyson will be doing shows around the southeast at places such as Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort and Myrtle Beach. Her fireworks season started in the beginning of May and will only end late July. And her regular job? She's a chorus and band teacher at Fairfield County Magnet School.
"This is just for the summer," she said with a laugh.
Months of planning
Since the beginning of March, Joe Piccolo, the Mall of Georgia manager, met many times with the Entertainment Design Group, the company responsible for the outdoor inflatables and carnival rides, and Pyrotecnico, the fireworks engineering company, in preparation for Fabulous Fourth.
"We've worked with both of those companies for years and years," said Ashley Cameron, the mall's PR representative. "We met for months in advance to set up the event."
Their meetings, according to Cameron, included recaps of previous events, discussions of what people previously enjoyed and selection of what soundtrack to use. In addition, mall management worked closely with the Gwinnett County Police Department to organize traffic flow for the aftermath of the show. According to Cameron, there will be 30 police officers directing traffic after the event.
"We're expecting over 125,000 over the span of the weekend," Cameron said.
SideBar: Fourth of July events
Looking for something to do for the Fourth? Gwinnett's cities are offering many fun activities for the family.
BUFORD: For the first time ever, the Mall of Georgia Fabulous Fourth celebration event will span two days, starting 2 p.m. today and ending at 9 p.m. Saturday.
Today's celebration will begin with live performances at the Village Amphitheatre that will span the rest of the day. In addition to prize-an-hour giveaways, there will be a Kids' Zone area, chock full of brightly colored, bouncy inflatables and carnival games. The Georgia Force, the Duluth-based Arena Football League team, will take the stage at 3 p.m. for a performance featuring the team's cheerleaders and mascot. With the self-proclaimed "grandest and brightest fireworks in Gwinnett," the Mall of Georgia will host a fireworks show at dusk, followed by the movie "Open Season," an animated film starring Ashton Kutcher and Martin Lawrence.
But don't worry; the fun doesn't end with the movie. On Saturday, the activities continue, starting at 10 a.m. The Dodge Ride and Drive Event will go from noon until 4 p.m., and the first 150 people to test drive a vehicle will receive a $20 Simon Malls Gift Card. Stone Echo will perform at 6:30 p.m. in the Village Amphitheatre, and live performances will continue until 9 p.m. For more information, call 678-482-8788 or visit www.mallofgeorgia.com.
BRASELTON: "Celebrate Braselton," the town's Independence Day celebration, will include a parade, vendors and live music from 9 a.m. until 7 tonight at Braselton Park. At dusk, Chateau Elan will host a fireworks show. The festivities are free. For more information, call 706-654-3915.
LAKE LANIER ISLANDS: "Light Up the Lake Fireworks Independence Day Celebration" will be held from 10 a.m. until dark tonight at the Lake Lanier Islands Resort's Beach and WaterPark, 7000 Holiday Road. There will be live entertainment, games, family fun, poolside activities and a fireworks show at dusk. The cost is adults, $27.99; children 42" and under, $17.99; under 3, free. For more information, call 770-932-7200.
LAWRENCEVILLE: "Gwinnett Glows," featuring arts and crafts, free children's activities and a live band, will be held today at the Historic Courthouse Square in Downtown Lawrenceville at 185 Crogan St. In addition to clowns, face painting, a fire juggler and trackless train rides, "Gwinnett Glows" will have a rock climbing wall, pony rides and live appearances from popular children's characters and fireworks at dusk. The event is free. For more information, call 678-226-2639.
STONE MOUNTAIN: The "Fantastic Fourth Celebration" will be held at 9:30 both tonight and Saturday at Stone Mountain Park. Beginning with the Laser Show Spectacular, the event will conclude with a traditional fireworks display. Tonight, bursts of light will be shot from both the base and the top of the mountain. The laser show and fireworks are free; parking is $10. For more information, call 770-498-5690.