I produce the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Designing and testing the balloons takes all year — and the feeling on parade morning is indescribable.
- Will Coss is the executive producer of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
- Planning the parade is a year-round job full of designing, building, and test flying balloons.
This is an as-told-to essay based on a conversation with Will Coss, the executive producer of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Being the executive producer of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is a dream role. I was born and raised in the Bronx and grew up with the parade, so I've experienced it in a variety of forms throughout the course of my life.
Now, I'm about to lead the team through what will be my second Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which is a true honor.
The preparation for an event like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is a year-long process
I joke sometimes by saying that the day after the parade is when we start planning next year's parade, but there's a lot of truth in that statement.
We take the planning process in a couple of different phases — we've got our pre-production design phase that kicks off our season, as it relates to our balloon elements and floats. We have a very specific design phase for the first few months while we start to work through some of our logistics and partnerships across New York City.
After the design process, we move into construction
Our elements are built in-house at our more than 70,000 square foot Macy's Studio in New Jersey, which is a magical place to be. Our team of engineers, fabricators, sculptors, and artists here at the studio take our designs and start to transform them into structural renderings, which then become artistic renderings.
Those elements get built on our studio floor. Then, once we're a few weeks out, we begin finalizing all of our fabrication stages and getting everything parade ready.
We then test fly all of our new balloons and elements
Initially, we do some computer work to understand the mechanics and the engineering of the balloon, then we traditionally fly them indoors first to work through the lift and flight patterns to understand how they respond in a controlled environment.
The final step of the test flight is when we take them outside for their first flight so we can see how the balloons react in real-world conditions.
On the evening before Thanksgiving, we build everything in the streets of the city
While we organize the parade for weeks and months in advance, a lot of people are surprised to learn that it's not until the day before the parade that we get all of our elements and our units in a 70- to 75-vehicle convoy that starts in New Jersey, goes through the Lincoln Tunnel, through the West Side and over to Central Park where everything is lined up in show order, and then put together for the parade itself.
When they're parade ready, many of our elements extend up to 30 feet in the air and are up to 18 feet wide. But to get transported in position, they have to be compacted to 12 feet high and about 9.5 feet wide — the size of any city bus. Then we have cranes across the upper West Side that build the elements back-up to their parade-ready position.
The morning of the parade, we run everything with the assistance of 5,000 volunteers
Since the parade's beginning in 1924, it's been supported by Macy's colleagues, friends, and families. We've continued that tradition, so a significant number of those volunteers are still employees and their friends and families.
We have so many volunteers who have been volunteering for generations. This year, we have a father and daughter who marched in the parade 40 years ago, and this year he's coming back to march with his daughter, grandkids, and wife.
The feeling on the parade morning is indescribable unless you're there
We have 70 units, 12 marching bands, 10 performance groups, all of our balloons and balloon handlers lined up. The energy is palpable.
Standing amongst the generations of people who have given their Thanksgiving morning year after year, where everyone has a smile on their face and is happy to be there, was one of the most magical moments of last year's parade for me. Rain or shine, we all show up to deliver the great parade, and it's a wonderful feeling.
This year will be our 96th year
To celebrate, we have 16 giant character balloons, 28 floats, and we'll have more than 700 clowns marching down the street. The scale and the spectacle is going to be a moment that we're all really excited about.
At the end of the day, our goal is to create moments on the parade route that are awe-inspiring, entertaining, immediately recognizable, and provide a little bit of surprise and delight. We're focused on that on the streets of New York City.
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