As owner of Pyrotek Special Effects Inc. — and its Laser Design division — you've been in the business for 26 years and have done pyro for acts from Paul McCartney and Sarah Brightman to Green Day, Kid Rock, and Metallica. How did you get your start in pyro and effects?
I used to play in bands and had some recording deals and used to tour. We had pretty elaborate lighting and pyro cues back then. One of my lighting techs, Gordon Hyndford, worked for Pro Sound and Lighting (PSL) in Ottawa. In my down time from the band, I got bored, and they asked me to come down to help out and learn some stuff. PSL then started a small pyro company, Pryotek. When my band fell apart, I started to work there, but it wasn't doing so well. The owners asked us to take it over and try to run it or sell it, so I pooled all my resources and borrowed some money and have had the company ever since.
You were just out with Metallica for a short run before their world tour, and you have a long history with those guys. What did your design include for this tour?
We had fireballs, machinegun hits, dragons, flash mortars, comets, mines, attack airbursts, and concussion mortars — custom pyro. This was a scaled-down show from what we usually do on the world tour. We concentrated effects on two songs, “Enter Sandman” and “One.” Prior to “One,” there's a two-minute war scene all done via pyro and set to the soundtrack of machinegun fire and guns.
What is the best career advice you've ever been given?
“Never become complacent,” given to me by Dan Brown. Especially for what I do, I must stay attentive at all times and know where the artists are, etc, so they're not in the wrong place at the wrong time. Also, from my mom: “What's for you, won't go past you,” meaning it's meant to be, and I had the opportunity, and I didn't let it go. Of course, for everyone doing pyro: “When in doubt, leave it out.”
And what's the worst?
“Shoot the cue, no matter what.” That came from a very well known hip hop artist. He had dancers in the wrong place at the wrong time, and even after the cue, he still wanted me to fire it, but I wouldn't.
What has been the proudest moment in your career?
The 1996-'97 Metallica Load world tour, where manager Peter Mensch had this idea to do it in the round, and he wanted the audience to feel surrounded by danger, have pyro all around, blow up the set, and have it seem as real as possible — movie set real. I was given carte blanche to make it look like all fire and brimstone and mayhem. I created this destruction scene before the end of the show with people falling out of trussing, cables breaking and sparking, malfunctioning everywhere — all timed with about a minute-and-a-half of pyro. All over the world, every night, there was a reaction: 911 was called, people were screaming, and it was even on the news. No one was in on it except the band. It was so real. We even hired paramedics to come running on stage to complete the illusion. There were people on fire, fire marshals running on stage, and all the lights out. Little work lights came on, the band came on, asked if everyone's okay, and they started playing with little tiny amps with light bulbs on stage…and finished the last two songs.