This is a question I receive quite frequently from some of the newer crew members; I will answer it in two parts. Keep in mind that the operator receives a certain percentage of the show, which goes towards not only the operator’s compensation, but also supplies he needs to purchase, food, snacks, and water for the crew, and then paying his/her crew if possible. The operator will typically take a much larger portion than each of the crew receives. Why? Aside from his greater experience, there are a lot of things that the operator does that are transparent to the crew, such as dealing with the customer, fire inspector, audio technicians, and show producer on multiple occasions days and weeks before the show, having meetings at the show site prior to the show date, drawing up layouts and/or scripts(if not provided), putting together a crew, among many other time consuming logistics. This is all in addition to driving to the plant to pick up the show, filling out tons and tons of paperwork before and after each show, knowing the laws to the point of complete memorization, and having a lot of legal liability on his/her shoulders.
As a crew member, will I get Paid? This depends on two things. How big the show is (which in turn determines the operators compensation), and the number of crew. If the show is not that big and there is a large crew, then it’s not very practical to pay everyone. This is the case for 95% of my shows since we conduct training with a large number of people at each display. Those shows are just volunteer with a free lunch. Most crew come out since they get to shoot fireworks, and/or they need training and a recommendation letter for their pyrotechnics license anyways.
Once it’s determined we will get paid, How much will I get? This is determined by a number of things. First off, as operator, I take a percentage (of the percentage given to me for the show) to compensate myself. I pay the crew on an individual basis based on your experience, how hard you work, and of course within the limits of the budget. I consider an experienced crew member to be able to do any task given to him/her, and be able to run the entire setup/show on their own if needed. In other words, they would be able to handle a variety of tasks such as rack placement, shell addressing, running continuity checks with any type of firing system, or anything else that may come up during a show. A new person (a “newb”) would not know what to do next, and would find themselves standing around waiting for instructions, and would have to be shown each step. In addition to your experience, your hard work counts for a lot. I have often paid new people more than someone with much more experience in the past, because they go out and work 10 times harder. Someone who shows initiative is very valuable to the crew. If you have worked 30 shows, but still have to wait after each task to be told what to do next, you end up being fairly useless to the crew. If you have shot 30 shows, but never show initiative to learn everything about the setup, such as running continuity checks, firing the display, coordinating with audio technicians, debbuging the different types of firing systems, then you become a permanent “newb”, as your knowledge does not increase as time goes on. As with any other job, everything is taken into consideration when pay is being determined.
If you are coming out to work a show because you are looking for a paycheck, then you’re there for the wrong reason and will not be asked back on the crew (if you are even allowed to come out in the first place). I choose crew based upon their motivation and passion for fireworks, their willingness to constantly improve their knowledge and skill in the field, and their dedication to our crew. In exchange, you will get training by expert pyrotechnicians, letters of recommendation for your State License, guidence to obtaining your pyrotechnics license so that you can run your own shows, and lets not forget, you will get to shoot fireworks!
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