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Fireworks show comes to the river ready to go

One of the defining memories of the annual Christmas on the River festival is the fireworks display during and after the nighttime river parade. Fittingly, it provides a tremendous pyrotechnic display at the end of the weeklong celebration, and what people remember most when they make plans for the next year’s festival.

The team behind the fireworks display is Pyro Productions, a team that has provided the COTR fireworks display for more than 10 years.

The team sets up across the river from the city landing — usually an hour-long drive from Demopolis, but this year, the team will take the short route by boating the fireworks across the river.

“We’re going to do it the way we used to do it because of the water being so high,” said Jeff Neu, the video-audio engineer, choreographer, designer and producer for Pyro Productions. “The Corps of Engineers actually cut a road where we drove in from Livingston and came in through the back way on the other side of the river, but this year, it looks like we’re going back to our old way of shuttling the show across the river via boat.”

The show has about 400 cues, which can be anything from a single shell going off or a multi-shot device, called a “cake,” which could contain from 100 to 200 shots apiece. It is choreographed to match the music being played during the parade.

“This is a computerized show that is shot to music,” Neu said. “The show is actually shot by computer. We create the show at Pyro Productions, and when it’s time to shoot, we put the computer in synch with the soundtrack, which is played from the Civic Center. The computer takes it from there.

“It is really cool the way it works. We can actually view the show before we shoot it, so we make sure that everything is where we want it and it’s the right effect. For example, when we play ‘Frosty the Snowman,’ we’re shooting our ‘happy face’ shells because it kind of looks like a snowman’s head. During ‘Let It Snow,’ We’re shooting off white strobes, and they kind of twinkle down like snowflakes, so it looks like it’s snowing. We try to match the looks to what the music is referring to.”

The team sets up the display on the Saturday of the parade. It takes about 80 man-hours to get everything in place — probably more this year, with the team having to boat everything back and forth across the river.

“We’ll be over there about 11:00 in the morning and start shuttling the equipment over,” Neu said. “We have about seven guys who put the show together. We go off a schematic, and we just build what’s on the schematic and plug it all into the computer. Most of the work is actually done before we get there!”

Pyro Productions was founded in Adamsville in 1994, and consists of its founder, Deborah Foster Neu, general manager John Lathrop, production manager Martin Dudrow and warehouse manager Joseph Dudrow.