One of the very common questions I get asked is “how do you get a Pyrotechnic License and become a Pyrotechnician?” Most states now require a license to buy and use pyrotechnics on the movie set. The Federal Government (BATFE) requires a user permit to buy, store, and use explosives.
- FEDERAL LICENSE – This license is fairly easy to acquire. You must NOT be a convicted felon, (which is defined as a crime that is punishable by at least one year incarceration. Even if you did not do the full sentence you are NOT eligible for this license). To get the Federal License, contact your local BATFE Office, get the application or download it, fill it out, send it along with money (application fee), and wait while they do the background check. The 20 Manufactures Permit is the one to get it. It covers the use and mixing of AB Flash powder, as well as the use of other materials.
- STATE LICENSE – I do not know much about getting this license in other states, but California is tough. There are several classes of licenses in California. The Special Effects Three Card or the Theatrical Trainee Card allows you to work with other licensed people to gain experience, this is where everyone starts. To get this license you need to contact the State Fire Marshal and get an application for the type of license you want. Next you will need to find 5 people who are already licensed and have them fill out a letter of recommendation for each license. Next you will have to send in the application along with the letters of recommendation and the money (application fee). Once they have received it they will send you a book called “Fireworks in California” and a test date. You will have time to study the book, then you’re required to take a test. If you pass the test, they will send you your license and you will be on your way.
After you have your Trainee (or 3) License you will have to work with other licensed operators for a minimum of 2 years, keeping a log in the format set out by the state, these forms are available on the state website. When you have completed your 2 years and worked on multiple gags you have to go through the process again and upgrade to a Class 2 License or the Theatrical or both. If you want to continue on to get your 1st Class License, you will need to go through the same process again and work 2 more years to upgrade to a 1st Class License. If you have gone through all these steps, you can do just about anything that the local fire department will permit.
REMEMBER You are allowed only one mistake with pyrotechnics—that is the one you made when you decided to work with explosives. The next one will seriously hurt you or someone else.
I get questions fairly regularly on how to do various gags. I will try to post some of the answers here as they come up or occur to me.