- 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 testing flying balloons.
- Coss said the feeling on the morning of the parade is indescribable unless you’re there.
This is an essay based on a conversation with Will Coss, the executive producer of Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade;. 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 various forms throughout my life.
Now, I’m about to lead the team in what will be the second Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which is a real honor.
Preparing for an event like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a year-long process
I sometimes joke that the day after the parade is when we start planning next year’s parade, but there is a lot of truth to that statement.
We undertake the design process in two different phases — we have the pre-production design phase that kicks off our season as it relates to our balloon elements and floats. We have a very specific planning phase for the first few months while we start working through some of our logistics and partnerships throughout New York.
After the design process, we move on to construction
Our assets are built in our over 70,000 square foot Macy’s Studio home in New Jersey, which is a magical place. Our team of engineers, fabricators, sculptors and artists here at the studio take our designs and begin to transform them into structural renderings, which then become artistic renderings.
These elements are built on our studio floor. Then, once a couple of weeks are up, we start wrapping up all of our construction stages and getting everything ready for the parade.
Then we test all our new balloons and elements
First, we do some computer work to understand the mechanics and mechanics of the balloon, then we traditionally fly them indoors to work out their lift and flight patterns to understand how they respond in a controlled environment.
The last step of the test flight is when we take them out for their first flight so we can see how the balloons react in real conditions.
The night before Thanksgiving, we build everything on the streets of the city
While we organize the parade for weeks and months in advance, many people are surprised to learn that just the day before the parade we have all of our elements and units in a 70 to 75 vehicle convoy that starts in New Jersey, goes through the tunnel of Lincoln, through the West Side and ends up in Central Park where everything is lined up in parade order and then assembled for the parade itself.
When ready for parade, many of our items stretch up to 30 feet in the air and are up to 18 feet wide. But to get them into place, they have to be compressed to 12 feet tall and about 9.5 feet wide — the size of any city bus. Then we have cranes all over the upper West Side building the elements into place ready for the parade.
On the morning of the parade, we run everything with the help of 5,000 volunteers
Since the parade’s inception in 1924, it has been supported by Macy’s colleagues, friends and families. We have continued this tradition, so a significant number of these 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 morning of the parade is indescribable unless you are there
We have 70 units, 12 marching bands, 10 performance teams, all our balloons and balloon handlers lined up. The energy is palpable.
Standing among the generations of people who have given Thanksgiving morning each 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 big parade, and it’s a great feeling.
This year will be our 96th year
To celebrate, we have 16 giant character balloons, 28 floats and will have over 700 clowns marching down the street. The scale and spectacle will be a moment we will all be truly excited about.
At the end of the day, our goal is to create moments along the parade route that are awe-inspiring, entertaining, instantly recognizable and offer a little surprise and delight. We have focused on it on the streets of New York.