“I didn’t tell anybody for the first twelve years that we were doing it by hand,” Treb Heining confesses in a new documentary. Heining is referring to the massive New Year’s Eve confetti drop in Times Square that he has orchestrated for the past 30 years. Over the holidays, we explained how the confetti gets cleaned up. Today, we bring you a short documentary by filmmaker Joshua Charow that explains how the confetti drop works.

Cleaning up the New Year's Eve confetti drop
Photo by Michael Anton/NYC Department of Sanitation

With such a massive amount of confetti, you might think that it’s released by machines, but what actually happens is that dozens of volunteers ascend to the upper floors and rooftops tops of various buildings in Times Square where cardboard boxes full of confetti are waiting. The confetti is gathered up by the arm full and tossed out over the crowd over and over again once the ball drops in Times Square. “I know that the effect could not be done on the level that it is with the machines that are out there” explains Heining, only by hand could the drop be “that instantaneous, with that much confetti.”

Heining got his start at Disney World in Anaheim, California where he sold balloons. He would go on to become the “father of the balloon business,” eventually orchestrating balloon effects for such large-scale events as the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. In 1991, he got a call from the Times Square Business Improvement District asking for something special for the New Year’s Eve Ball drop. Immeditalyel Heining’s thoughts went to a confetti drop which had never been done before.

Wishing wall confetti
Wishes are written on New Year’s Eve confetti

Today, the New Year’s Eve confetti drop is the longest-running event Heining has been part of. In Charow’s documentary, you can see Heining doing a roll call of confetti-throwing volunteers and some have been throwing confetti for decades. Every year Heining registers 80 to 100 volunteers to disperse 3,000 pounds of confetti. The confetti is made out of recycled, flame-retardant, and biodegradable paper.

“In the minute just before midnight I’m always nervous,” Heining explains in the documentary, but in the end, the confetti drop is magical. “To see these waves of confetti and the crowd cheering and going crazy and of course the ball, it’s just a very emotional thing for me. Goosebumps. Whether I’m participating in dispersing or not, it just never gets old.”

Joshua Charow’s Limelight documentary series tells the unheard stories of New Yorkers from around the city. Another documentary in the series follows the man who cleans the reflecting pools at the 9/11 Memorial, and another follows a day in the life of a street performer.

Next, check out The Top 10 Secrets of Times Square