Jim Donald, director of production, Jack Morton tells Access that handling London’s New Year’s Eve fireworks was a blast…

How did Jack Morton originally get involved in the event, and how do you keep the contract year after year?

We first tendered for the Mayor of London’s New Year’s Eve fireworks in 2004, after our creation of the Athens Olympics opening and closing ceremonies. We won a four year contract and since then have retendered every three-four years. Each time it’s a competitive pitch process, so it’s of course essential that we stay at the top of our game.

What changes have you made to the event through the years, logistically and in terms of technology used?

In 2004, the event was designed very much as a media moment – there was a desire to create an event that would put London on the map globally and show London as a centre of excellence for such events. Logistically, as the event has grown exponentially in popularity, we’ve needed to focus on crowd management measures, moving people further along the event footprint to avoid overcrowding. This format developed through to ultimately creating a large-scale ticketed event over the past five years. It now operates in the way you’d expect any large scale event to happen in the current climate, in order to ensure the safety and security of all attending.

Another big challenge logistically is to ensure London, which is of course an ever-evolving and growing city, remains operational for everyday business as long as possible. Roads are not closed until 2pm on the day of the event and the London Eye is only handed over to us at 4pm. 

In terms of technology, there have been significant changes over this period as you would expect.  In 2004, the show design was created in and communicated to the client and broadcasters through storyboard sketches. Today we are able to design and communicate the lighting and firework design through a fully integrated animation.  In terms of the show itself, technological advancements in firing systems allows us to create a more fully synchronised show using GPS and time code to trigger each of the 6000 cues through the 11 minute show. 

How has the event been received?

The event has always been well received , attracting an increasing number of viewers year on year and becoming quite a national institution in people’s homes – as well as those lucky enough to see the event live. This year viewing peaked at over 13 million on the BBC. 

How does the briefing of the event occur – and how much are Jack Morton involved in the creative and messaging of each event?

The briefing starts each year with the first debrief in the first few days of January – where we review the event that has just been delivered, alongside the city management and operations, learning from the operations on the night to inform the priorities for the following year’s plan. In terms of the creative and messaging, our creative is informed by the Mayor’s Office’s vision and messaging, which we then work with them to translate to tell the story through sound, lighting and fireworks.

How has pyrotechnics technology developed?

Advances in technology have made pyrotechnics safer and more predictable, making the show design all the more accurate and effective. Advances around firing systems means it’s possible to make the fireworks, music and lighting integration closer, leading to a highly synchronised show. 

What inspires the event? Do you look to other displays worldwide?

We do of course take an active interest in other shows around the globe, but we don’t take them as inspiration per se. Our focus is to maximise the unique vista and architectural assets of London – creating a world-class show that could only be in London. We work closely with City Hall to create it and deliver its message.

 

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