Lighting Up the Stage: Basak Ozer's Inspiring Career in the Exciting World of Pyrotechnics

Born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey, Basak’s passion for music and the performing arts led her to pursue a degree in international cultures, history, art, and political science in Turkey. Her hard work and talent caught the attention of international promoter Nick Hobbs and landed her first gig as a booking agent at Charmenko Music Agency in Istanbul back in 2013. Basak honed her skills further by attending UCLA where she received a music business education and working with Ofer Ziv at Gate Productions. The relentless pursuit of her music career led her to her dream position at ffp, one of the leading companies in pyrotechnics and special effects. 

ffp is known for working with the likes of Rammstein, KISS, Green Day, The Weeknd at Coachella, Kanye West, Bjork, Mötley Crüe, Avenged Sevenfold, Slipknot, Lady Gaga, Greta Van Fleet, Imagine Dragons, Rihanna and Coldplay, to name a few. 

Basak has been an indispensable asset to the company and has had many successful projects under her belt, including securing pyro permits for Green Day, Avenged Sevenfold, KISS, Bjork, The Weeknd and Kanye West. She has also been a part of ffp’s creative team since its early days in the US and has seen the company grow from a two-person operation to a larger operation, winning two Guinness World Records for their work with KISS. Basak takes great pride in being a part of the exceptional team at ffp and is currently working on exciting new projects for 2023 and 2024.

Basak Ozer is a highly sought-after and accomplished professional, and I was very lucky to secure an interview with her in spite of her busy schedule. During our conversation, I had the opportunity to ask her about her impressive career journey and gain insight into her experiences and achievements : 

• What influenced your decision to pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree at Koc University in Turkey and Music Business at UCLA?
» I have always been fascinated by international cultures, history, art, and political science, which led me to choose a Bachelor of Arts degree at Koc University in Turkey. However, during my time in college, I became increasingly interested in media arts and decided to pursue a minor in media production. After completing my bachelor's degree, I realized that the music industry was the perfect intersection of my two major interests, and I subsequently pursued a business education in music at UCLA.

• How did your interest in visual arts and music evolve?
» My musical journey started at a young age, as I received classical piano training from the age of 7 until 19. However, it was during my senior year in college when I began to explore the live music scene and secured my first big gig in the music industry as a booking agent at Charmenko Music Agency in Istanbul. Working with international promoter and booking agent Nick Hobbs, I gained valuable experience and made business connections that ultimately led me to pursue a career in the live music industry. Through my work as a booking agent and artist liaison at local shows and festivals, I realized the theatrical aspect of live music was what spoke to me the most. Given my background in Film and Media studies and my lifelong passion for music, I found that live production was a perfect fit for me.

• Can you talk about your experiences working with Gate Production and Fairfax recording in Los Angeles, and how they influenced your career?
» During my time at Gate Production, I worked closely with Ofer Ziv, who is an artist manager for the renowned world music artist Omer Faruk Tekbilek. Ofer was a mentor to me, and he introduced me to many venues and promoters in Los Angeles. This helped kickstart my touring journey in the US while I was studying at UCLA.
Following my time at Gate Production, I had my first big corporate experience in the recorded music industry as a marketing intern at Fairfax Recordings with Neil Scheild who is doing great things at Apple Music at the moment. His guidance provided me with valuable industry knowledge and insights, which ultimately strengthened my resume and helped me land my dream job at ffp.

• How did your interest in pyrotechnics develop?
» From a young age, I attended concerts where pyrotechnics and other theatrical effects were used, and I was always intrigued by their ability to enhance the live performance and create a more engaging experience for the audience. I believe that the visual aspect of a show is a crucial element of any live performance.

• How did you get started in the field of pyrotechnics and what experiences shaped your understanding of the industry? 
» My introduction to the world of pyrotechnics was through my work at ffp where I had the opportunity to work under the mentorship of Nicolai Sabottka, who provided me with indispensable guidance and training in pyrotechnics and special effects. My first major project involved obtaining pyro permits for Green Day's 2017 US tour, which involved securing over 50 permits from various authorities having jurisdiction across the country. This experience allowed me to work closely with fire marshals from different states, each with their unique safety regulations and requirements, and taught me the importance of working collaboratively with local authorities to ensure the safe transportation and use of pyrotechnics and other dangerous goods such as flammable gasses at each venue. It was a challenging but ultimately rewarding experience that gave me a deep appreciation for the intricacies of the pyrotechnics industry and the importance of effective communication and coordination in ensuring a successful show. Since I am heavily involved in the creative process from beginning to the end it ties in perfectly with also obtaining the actual show permit, start to end, so to say.

From left to right : Coco aka Constance Schulz(ffp), Mary Berry (ffp), Ramiro Rodriguez (CALFIRE), Katja Born-Sabottka (ffp), Basak Ozer (ffp)ish ish, David Carrillo (ffp)

• Can you describe your experience working in a successful company like ffp?
» In working for a successful company like ffp, it has been a rewarding experience to witness the company's growth over the past six years. While ffp has been a well-known name in the industry in Europe, its presence and recognition in the United States have been more recent. As a member of the core team in the US, which initially consisted of only two people (excluding the company's founders), I have seen the company expand to include over twenty technicians and a growing office staff. Working at ffp has allowed me to develop my career in tandem with the company's growth, which has given me a sense of personal investment and attachment to the company.

• Of all the incredible shows you and ffp have been involved in, what are your most memorable projects and interesting permitting experiences to date ?
» All Rammstein shows! I mean... their shows are the most exceptional in live entertainment and to this day nothing comes close to the amount of flame and pyrotechnics used. To give you an idea, normally, one fire inspector or two are required by the fire departments but For Rammstein shows due to the high intensity of the shows, we need at least 4 !

And more recently, I was involved in the Kanye West Donda 1 and 2 shows. For Donda I (Free Larry Hoover Show at the LA Coliseum in December 2022), the stage design was a moon shape and we had the task to create this experience where Kanye was performing on the moon under a smokey, turquoise color atmosphere like space. We used all of our smoke and fog machines and additionally rented / bought all available sfx hardware to make this happen in a 2 week notice time and the colored smoke carts enhanced the moon. When smoke and fog is all the sfx you work with, making it exceptional is a greater task than various effects being used ! It had to make an outstanding impact because intense winds can be your worst enemy. Nevertheless we did a great job pulling it off… This was one of my personal favorites !

• How does the process of pyro creation for big shows work and what is your role in it?
» As a pyrotechnics specialist, my job is to work closely with clients, understand their vision, and determine the best products and special effects  to use for their show. I also have to ensure that the effects are safe and adhere to local regulations. Planning and logistics are a major part of my role, and I have to consider various factors such as storage of pyrotechnics at the venues or if the specs of the venue such as the ceiling height will allow the planned effect. My job requires attention to detail and precision, as any mistake could compromise the show. Each product is customized and manufactured for the show and there is no room for shipment to go sideways - we have to ensure that they are transported safely to the venues on time.
An example of the pyro creation process is the KISS show in Dubai, where I was part of the designing team. We set a Guinness World Record for the most flame projections launched simultaneously in a music concert with 73 flames and the tallest flame height ever used on stage. Our goal was to create an exceptional show while adhering to regulations. I typically work alongside designers to ensure that the creative concept meets regulatory requirements, but for this show, I was also involved in the creative process.

 ffp has some of the most unique flame units in the industry, what can you say about that?
» Yes we pride ourselves with that for sure. We have a research & development department in our LA and Berlin warehouses led by Jonas Born who works day and night tirelessly on new technologies as well as actually manufacturing some of our coolest gear we carry. When you introduce a new special effects equipment or a stage set up, it comes with many challenges to permit it with the authorities having jurisdiction. We always strive for pushing the boundaries so we are always happy to accept the challenge and that’s how we’ve become forefront in introducing new technologies to local fire departments and work closely with state fire marshals.

• Could you describe what you find most enjoyable about your job?
» I find my work to be always exciting and dynamic, and there's never a boring moment. While my morning may start with some administrational duties, we will have a creative meeting in the afternoon that will take us up to midnight to come up with a concept for an artist we work for. Additionally, I must admit that I have a fondness for setting things on fire (but always in a responsible and safe manner!). 

• What are some interesting practices you have?
We can not fully trust any shipping company or freight forwarder... especially because we are handling explosives and flammable products, there is a high chance of shipments getting lost or not taken good care by the hazmat specialist of the shipping company. We started to have venues send us a photo of the delivery as proof. Sad but true, if we don't have the product, we don't have a show. Obviously one has to carry IATA license for shipments going via air and DOT license for hazardous products going ground, this is one of my specialities aside permitting and creative work for ffp.

• What advice would you give to individuals who are interested in pursuing a career in the pyrotechnics industry?
» My advice would be to focus on effective communication and coordination to ensure the success of a show. This is a highly regulated and dangerous industry, so it's important to work well with others and be able to communicate effectively with your team, clients, and authorities. You should also have a strong attention to detail and the ability to manage logistics and plan ahead to avoid any mistakes that could jeopardize a show. Safety is paramount in this industry, so it's important to always be aware of the regulations and take necessary precautions to prevent any accidents. Ultimately, if you have a passion for pyrotechnics and the ability to work well under pressure, then this is a thrilling and rewarding industry to be a part of.

Thank you, Basak, for sharing your journey and experiences with us. Your journey in the pyrotechnics industry and your passion for creating safe and spectacular shows are truly inspiring. We wish you continued success in your career and many more opportunities to bring awe-inspiring performances to audiences around the world. Thank you again for taking the time to speak with us.

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