YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

His Films Aren't Epic, They're Just Big : Large-format Imax Process Produces Giant Screen Image

May 17, 1985|RANDY LEWIS | Times Staff Writer

Working out of his modest but comfortable offices on South Coast Highway in Laguna Beach, Greg MacGillivray has produced several of the biggest films in cinema.

No, we're not talking about financial blockbusters like the "Star Wars" trilogy or "Ghostbusters." Yet movies from his MacGillivray Freeman Films company such as "Dance of Life," "To Fly" and his latest, "Speed," are quite literally bigger than any that George Lucas or Steven Spielberg have created.

So why haven't most people heard or seen these titles before? Possibly because there are only 40 theaters in the world equipped to show them and only two of those theaters are in Southern California--in Los Angeles and in San Diego.

MacGillivray Freeman Films is one of the world's leading producers of IMAX movies, a special large-format film that is 10 times larger than standard 35-millimeter movie stock and three times larger than 70-millimeter.

IMAX film images are not only significantly sharper and brighter than those of conventional film formats, they can also be projected to immense proportions. This calls for Gargantuan screens like the Los Angeles IMAX theater's five-story-high, six-story-wide screen. And that's not even one of the big ones.

"The new IMAX theater in Jakarta (Indonesia) is 2 1/2 times larger than the theater in L.A.," MacGillivray, 39, said in an interview earlier this week, sitting in his second-story office that overlooks the Pacific Ocean.

"Speed," MacGillivray Freeman's new film examining man's pursuit of velocity throughout history, will have its official premiere this weekend at the Los Angeles IMAX theater, located in the Museum of Science and Industry in Exposition Park. The premiere showings today and Saturday will be $35-per-person benefits for the museum.

Surrounded by a portion of his vast collection of historical film equipment and memorabilia that decorates the entire office complex, MacGillivray said that he and his late partner Jim Freeman, who was killed in a 1976 helicopter accident, always have tried to make films that gave the viewer a compelling visual experience.

"I like making money, too," he said with a laugh, "but after you count the money three or four times, it's no longer a turn-on. One aspect of film making I've always loved is turning on audiences. In our early surf films, we would do the narration in person, travelogue-style. We could watch the crowds and it was like being an actor or comedian on stage--you got that immediate feedback.

"We've done films in all different mediums--35-millimeter, Cinerama, 3-D, wide screen--and through those experiences we grew toward doing IMAX films. At that time, IMAX was in its infancy."

IMAX cameras, he said, weigh 70 to 80 pounds alone, and with soundproofing covers weigh in at a bulky 350 pounds. MacGillivray admitted that the cumbersome equipment creates some problems during filming. The special IMAX projectors and screens also make it unlikely that the format will ever supplant 35-millimeter as the industry standard.

But MacGillivray believes that the IMAX system will eventually be used for more than just the documentaries and visual demonstration films that represent the bulk of IMAX product to date.

"People are always looking for something different, something that's visually exciting or that has an event atmosphere, whether it's the Renaissance Pleasure Faire or seeing 'Star Wars' in 70-millimeter," MacGillivray said. "So I can see this system in entertainment complexes across the country for feature films. But that's probably 10 years away."

To date, MacGillivray Freeman has made five of some 65 to 70 IMAX films produced by about 20 film companies worldwide in the 15 years since the IMAX system was introduced. Their first, "To Fly," opened at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington on July 4, 1976, and has played continuously since. MacGillivray said that nearly 9 million people have seen "To Fly" over the last nine years.

MacGillivray is working on his sixth IMAX film, a story-documentary about life in Indonesia, slated for release in September, 1986.

Besides their IMAX movies, MacGillivray Freeman Films produced the popular 1972 surf documentary "Five Summer Stories" and provided second-unit cinematography on several feature films. Among those were "An Officer and a Gentleman," "Jonathan Livingston Seagull," "The Towering Inferno" and "Koyaanisqatsi." His company also produced "The Wonders of China" for the CircleVision 360 theaters at Disneyland and Disney World in Florida.

But MacGillivray said his proudest moment was being asked by director Stanley Kubrick to work on his 1980 film "The Shining," from the Stephen King novel.

Los Angeles Times Articles