Immersed in Pyrotechnics

By Joe Halpern ’82, June 29, 2020
IC alum documents Guinness world record largest aerial firework.

For Hannah Basciano ’17, Fourth of July celebrations are a welcome reminder of why she loves the work she does so much.

The time-honored American tradition of “oohing and aahing” at dazzling fireworks displays of noise, light, smoke, colored flames and sparks during Independence Day Weekend also help validate the thousands of hours the Ithaca College alumna has put into documenting the fascinating world of pyrotechnics for Veverka Bros. Productions, an award-winning media services company in Brooktondale, New York, about an eight-mile drive from the IC campus.

“The entire valley illuminated. It was like being surrounded by the glow of a supernova,”

Hannah Basciano ’17

“I've always loved fireworks. I grew up in Pennsylvania and my brother and I used to search the firework tents for sales on July 5th. Then, we'd put together a mini-display on our driveway with music that matched the novelty item or fountain,” said Basciano, an honors student at IC who graduated from the Roy H. Park School of Communications with a degree in documentary film studies and production.

“But honestly, I didn't seek out working with Veverka Bros. Productions because of their work with fireworks,” Basciano said. “I was simply interested in documentary work. Since starting with them five and a half years ago as an intern, I've become immersed in the fascinating subculture of pyrotechnics.”

As an assistant producer and editor for Veverka Bros. Productions’ documentary series, Passfire, Basciano has traveled to the Philippines, Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Thailand and Canada, along with many places in the U.S., for the largest and the most famous fireworks shows, festivals and religious and cultural ceremonies.

In February, Basciano traveled to Colorado to document the world’s largest aerial firework — a 62-inch, 2,797-pound firework shell that was successfully launched nearly a mile into the air during the winter carnival at Steamboat Springs. To give you an idea of how large the Steamboat Springs firework was, the biggest shell most people see in their local Fourth of July show would be 6 inches (in diameter), if that, explained Basciano.

Basciano’s footage of the massive one-ton firework, which was certified by the Guinness Book of World Records after exploding into a spectacular fireball followed by a burst of colorful falling sparks, was picked up by many news outlets including BBC, Reuters, CNN, Fox and CBS.

Watch the successful launch.

“The entire valley illuminated. It was like being surrounded by the glow of a supernova,” recalled Basciano

The record firework and the team of pyrotechnicians who built it and successfully launched it will also be featured in Season 3 of the Passfire Maximum Load docu-series later this year.

“I feel really fortunate to have witnessed the firework and to be able to have followed the story from the beginning,” said Basciano, who two years prior filmed the group’s failed attempt to set the aerial record for a firework when the shell prematurely exploded inside a 26-foot long mortar.

“I was invested both in the story and in the team and their determination,” she continued. “Unlike many of the spectators around me, I knew the science and engineering that went into the firework. I was effectively a ball of nerves not just for myself in getting the shot, but for the team.

“When I saw the shell leave the mortar it was a massive relief, and then when it detonated and illuminated the whole valley, I knew I'd witnessed a bit of history,” Basciano said.