Big Bang Theory
Holiday Fireworks Mastermind Pete Moffett
This December, residents of Manhattan Beach will once again join a tradition that literally started with a bang when, as early as 200 B.C., the Chinese discovered the propulsive power of roasted bamboo. For 25 years, Pete Moffett has brought large-scale special events to communities across the South Bay. This year, he is joined by sponsors Mike Sullivan (LAcarGuy) and Michael Greenberg (SKECHERS) in bringing the Holiday Fireworks extravaganza to Manhattan Beach.
How did an Alabama native and former Air Force pilot with a degree in marketing end up launching huge special events?
Pete Moffett: From Alabama, I went to Houston, where I was president of the American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC). Southern California was a big cultural change. Instead of meeting with MBAs and PhDs every day from Fortune 500 companies, I found myself in the restaurant business, stepping over skateboards and bicycles to get to work.
Where did the idea for fireworks come from?
PM: My wife grew up in Manhattan Beach, and I owned a restaurant in town called Manhattan Coolers. She missed the town’s fireworks on the Fourth of July. I wanted to give back to the community, so I told her I’d go to city hall to get permission.
Any background in pyrotechnics?
PM: I had never bought fireworks. I knew nothing about fireworks.
What did city hall say?
PM: They basically said, “When hell freezes over,” because they had tried fireworks on the Fourth before, and it had attracted unruly crowds.
How did you convince them?
PM: I realized that the issue was not the fireworks so much as it was fireworks on the Fourth of July. I suggested that we move the fireworks to Christmastime, keep it local and do it on a Sunday.
Weren’t many of your Christmases in Alabama?
PM: Yes. To me Christmas is a fond childhood memory of fun, fantasy and wonder. I loved singing “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Deck the Halls” in church when I was a kid—though they eventually booted me out of the choir, because I could not sing, and I could not read music. I thought that was very un-Christian .
Does the show in Manhattan Beach include any other holiday traditions?
PM: We sing Chanukah songs, too. Our show is not religious. And Michael Greenberg does the snow park.
I like the fireworks that look like cobalt sea urchins. What’s your favorite?
PM: I like the five-inch shells that fill the sky in silver and gold.
Those weeping willowy ones?
PM: Yes. Frances Marquez is the senior pyrotechnician from Fireworks America. I love working with her. She can give you the name.
Frances says that your favorites are called nishiki kamuro in Japanese, or cascade. Mine are likely chrysanthemums from China.
PM: Fireworks are sized in inches. The bigger the diameter, the higher the shell goes, and the greater the effect. A five-inch shell can fill the entire sky. I love those. I also like the salute, the sound.
Frances says the American fireworks are known for noise, the Spanish for stained-glass colors, the Italians for multiple effects from a single shell, the Japanese for their precision, and the Chinese for shapes like the rings in the Olympics.
PM: Fireworks are an art form. Frances works with John Noonan from Disney’s Imagineering Q&A department. The music is synchronized, which is a very sophisticated process. Your typical shell will have four or five different times it’s built around—fuse time, pre-launch time, the time it takes to rise in the air (lift time), float/hang time, and how long it lasts (duration). All of that is factored into a program that’s choreographed. Noonan programs the computer and synchs the music with the fireworks.
What’s new this year?
PM: I’m very excited about our new “12 Days of Christmas” sing-along with the Mira Costa High School orchestra and cheer squad.
What inspired that?
PM: I went to David Prather’s holiday sing-along at the Disney Concert Hall. He divided up the audience, and everybody was jumping up at the end. Sections of our crowd in Manhattan Beach will be “lords-a-leaping and “swans-a-swimming.” Communal singing is a powerful and uplifting force. It gives me goose bumps to think about it.