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Aug 14, 2017

Q and A: Nick Mitri, Manager Foti Fireworks Queensland

The Manager of the Queensland branch of the Event Awards exclusive Fireworks and Effects Partner Foti International Fireworks, talks about competing in international fireworks competitions, making things go bang and how far fireworks have come in 30 years.

What do you do at Foti International Fireworks?

I manage Foti Fireworks Queensland (FFQ is the company that will do the show for the Australian Event Awards this year). Basically I run the office and events up here, with some support from the Sydney office. I’m still learning how things get done in Australia.

Give us a little peek at your career before your current role at Foti International Fireworks.

I have been a pyrotechnician for 24 years and own a company back in South Africa, Fireworks for Africa. Through fireworks, I have been fortunate enough to work in some 34 countries around the world (I have travelled to 48 in total). Some of the memorable events include the Closing of the Olympics in Sydney in 2000, the 2010 FIFA World Cup and having twice competed in Montreal which is the largest and most famous of all the international fireworks competitions around the world.

What’s your favourite thing about your job?

There are a few favourite things to be honest. Making things go ‘bang’ obviously is one of them. I love the travel and getting to see new places and meet the most interesting (and sometimes famous) people. I was initially drawn to fireworks because of the audience’s "oooohs" and "aaaahs" as the fireworks exploded in the sky. This never gets old. It makes all the hard work and long hours worthwhile.

How would your friends and colleagues describe you?

I think they would say that I am a passionate person and one that has a sense of humour. A person who doesn’t take life too seriously.

What kind of events does Foti International Fireworks typically work on?

Foti Fireworks Queensland, like Foti Fireworks International, supplies fireworks, pyrotechnics and special FX, so we do large fireworks events where the fireworks is the event, as well as sporting events, corporate events, launches and any event that is in need of the wow factor, where the fireworks or pyrotechnics is part of an existing event. Some examples of events we have worked on since launching in Queensland include Riverfire which is a large scale fireworks display fired from 10 buildings, six barges and two bridges, The Fire Machine at Dreamworld which was 24 shows over the Christmas period where we did flames and close proximity pyro, the State of Origin games where we did the pre-game show and the flames for the trophy lift. We have also done a few tours for the likes of Porter Robinson, Diplo, Groovin the Moo and Hot Dub Time Machine.

What’s the most interesting event you’ve ever worked on?

I think Riverfire stands out because of how complex the logistics involved in us getting 18 separate shows off the ground to produce one show is. I don’t think people realise what it takes to get it to happen. The amount of paperwork alone is staggering. Obviously working for the Closing of the Sydney Olympics was something else as the TV audience was huge (I think the biggest for a fireworks display at that time). I think the TV audience for the FIFA 2010 World Cup was also huge (again maybe the biggest at that time). Ghana’s 50th Independence Celebrations (the largest event in my career) is also a memorable one.

The one that stands out from the rest though was having driven down to the home of the late Nelson Mandela in Qunu in the Eastern Cape to get him to light the ‘Flame of Freedom’ as he was too sickly to travel to Johannesburg for the ceremony. Having met with him, we (I took my mate Lee Foggitt with me for the ride) got him to light a lantern, which we then drove back to Johannesburg overnight (900 kms). The flame that was lit by the hand of the late and great Nelson Mandela was then transferred to the gas cauldron which still burns today at Constitution Hill.

What innovations in fireworks and pyrotechnics can we expect in the next couple of years?

Some 30 years ago, fireworks were used only for traditional fireworks displays and were always fired some distance for the audience. Over the last few decades the industry has developed pyrotechnics that can be fired in close proximity to an audience and even indoors. We now design everything on a computer and simply download the script to the controller. One push of a button and a 20 minute show will be fired incorporating several thousand cues. Our Foti brand ICON works constantly on the reduction of smoke and debris for our products and this has come a long way since we started. New types of flame and CO2 systems are being developed all the time, and because these effects can now be scripted to fire to a hundredth of a second, they are being used on all manner of multi-media events. I believe the industry will continue to push for smokeless and fall-out free products. The products that get used in close proximity to an audience are getting larger, but at the same time safer all the time.

Foti International Fireworks has designed and delivered the Sydney New Year’s Eve fireworks since 2000 – what’s involved in putting on one of the most watched fireworks displays in the world?

I personally believe that this is not one of, but the most watched fireworks display in the world today. It is definitely the most iconic. It may not be the biggest, but it definitely gets the most exposure. If you ask people from any country in the world, this is definitely the most talked about. It takes a lot of work to get this show to happen on the 31st of December every year. We are looking at around 6 months for the manufacture of all the products, many of which are designed and manufactured specifically for the bridge. Forch Foti takes around 100 hours to design this display. There are 2 months of prep work out at our facility in Marulan. 12 days on site with 40 technicians. The display is fired from seven barges, 27 positions on the four sails of the Opera House and from 176 positions on the bridge. The show is fired with 17 controllers and 642 modules.

How do you tailor fireworks displays to each event?

There are a number of factors that go into this. What the client is after, the type of event, the budget and the venue. Obviously a show on a bridge for thousands of people is going to be quite different to a small wedding display. We take all the factors into account and move forward from there.

What’s something few people would know about Foti International Fireworks?

The company was founded in 1793 in Italy, we manufacture our own fireworks...and we now have a branch in Queensland!

What’s your favourite Australian event and why?

Riverfire for sure...the biggest fireworks display in Queensland every year.

Views expressed in this Q and A are solely those of the subject of the Q and A.