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Behind the Suit: Angus Fletcher – Pyrotechnician extraordinaire

Anyone who's spent time with Snow River Media founder and Digital Outlook Studios exec producer Angus Fletcher knows the man has a keen instinct for creating dramatic wonder, and it certainly shines in his work. A long-time producer of The Muppets during his tenure at The Jim Henson Company, Fletcher has more recently given birth to Five Minutes More, a co-pro with Australia's Buster Dandy Productions that is one of ABC Kids' strongest preschool performers. But he channels his love of the theatrical into more than just hit shows, and some may argue that his hobby has more big-bang potential than his day job.
August 1, 2007

Anyone who’s spent time with Snow River Media founder and Digital Outlook Studios exec producer Angus Fletcher knows the man has a keen instinct for creating dramatic wonder, and it certainly shines in his work. A long-time producer of The Muppets during his tenure at The Jim Henson Company, Fletcher has more recently given birth to Five Minutes More, a co-pro with Australia’s Buster Dandy Productions that is one of ABC Kids’ strongest preschool performers. But he channels his love of the theatrical into more than just hit shows, and some may argue that his hobby has more big-bang potential than his day job.

A fully licensed and in-demand pyrotechnician, Fletcher is addicted to the thrill of putting on fireworks displays, and has been practicing his craft for the last 20 years. Fireworks have always been a big deal for Fletcher, whose birthday at the end of October tends to coincide with England’s Guy Fawkes celebrations, which yield some of the biggest and best displays in the world. He even considered pyrotechnics as a career – and then 45 seconds later, realized that ‘the world is full of people who love blowing things up,’ making for limited employment opportunities.

Although he used to travel far and wide across Europe on commissions, these days Fletcher orchestrates four or five shows a year in and around the UK, most often hooking up with charity events and doing favors for friends of friends. His shows are very elaborate and usually involve fire, smoke, water features and music. The expensive ones can cost as much as US$25,000 to put on and may take two to three days to plan out. ‘Fireworks on their own are a busman’s holiday (Editor’s translation: Been there, done that),’ says Fletcher. ‘For me, it’s more about putting on theater with explosives.’

His favorite show of all time was a millennium display he did at Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, where Warner Bros. shoots all the Hogwarts School scenes for its Harry Potter movies. The high-profile event attracted a crowd of about 15,000 and was filmed by the BBC. And his strangest gig? A funeral for a very well-known British actor, who loved fireworks and wanted his ashes scattered that way. Imagine trying to guesstimate how much ash to load into a shell to ensure it gets airborne enough to not rain down on a crowd of mourners. Kind of like that golden idol scene in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, but with a dark twist.

Fletcher likens the behind-the-scenes staging area of a fireworks show to a military battle. ‘It’s the nearest you’ll get to a war experience, short of joining the army,’ he says. ‘It’s loud, smoky, you can’t see, and people are yelling to each other on walkie-talkies. It’s an intense experience.’

Although he uses showy fireworks like fountains (also called gerbs), waterfalls and shells (the ones that fill the sky with cascading balls of light) often, Fletcher’s big crowd-pleasers are a lot more subtle. When the site permits it, he likes to position strobing flares between trees because it looks very ethereal. And another favorite trick is to dot a hillside with tin cans full of petrol. ‘When you light them, it looks like the entire hillside is covered in fairy lights, like something out of medieval times.’

So far, Fletcher’s hobby hasn’t crossed over into his career as a producer of kids programming, but if an opportunity ever presented itself, I’m sure he’d be ready to hit the trenches.

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