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HOW I MADE IT: GREG MacGILLIVRAY

Filmmaker is the largest independent producer of giant-screen IMAX movies

MacGillivray Freeman Films makes its 70-millimeter movies in partnerships with corporations, foundations and private investors. Among its hits are 'To Fly,' 'Everest' and 'The Living Sea.'

August 09, 2009|E. Scott Reckard

The gig: Running MacGillivray Freeman Films, which made its first 16-millimeter surfing documentary in 1967 and evolved into the largest independent producer of giant-screen IMAX movies. The company, with 27 employees, produces its 70-millimeter films in partnerships with corporations, foundations and private investors. Based in a former motel and rest home, the Laguna Beach outfit is known for arresting aerial and underwater sequences, soundtracks by prominent musicians (Dave Matthews Band, George Harrison, Sting) and celebrity narrators (Liam Neeson, Robert Redford, Meryl Streep). Starting with last year's "Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk," MacGillivray Freeman is introducing 3-D sequences to provide an even more jolting -- or drenching -- sense of immediacy.

Personal: MacGillivray, 64, enjoys mountain biking in the hills near his Laguna Beach home, surfing and other outdoor sports. "The wilderness begins at the water's edge -- all you need is a mask and snorkel." He began dating his wife, Barbara, as a high school junior; they didn't marry until 1980, when they decided to have children. Son Shaun, with a master's degree in filmmaking from USC, is a producer at the company; daughter Megan, who is still a student, works there part-time.

Background: Born in a San Diego Navy hospital in 1945, MacGillivray grew up in a Corona del Mar "beach shack" that his father built. His first film, "A Cool Wave of Color," took him four years of high school to produce, using a camera purchased with paper-route money to film surfers. When it earned back the money he had invested in it, he dropped out of college to make more films, eventually teaming with Jim Freeman, a more experienced moviemaker. Early efforts included "Five Summer Stories," a cult-classic surf documentary; "Sentinels of Silence," an Oscar-winning, Orson Welles-narrated exploration of Mayan civilization; numerous TV commercials; and attention-getting aerial sequences for such features as "Jonathan Livingston Seagull," "The Towering Inferno" and "The Shining."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, August 12, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
How I Made It: An article in Sunday's Business section about giant-screen filmmaker Greg MacGillivray said his early efforts with Jim Freeman included "Sentinels of Silence." Freeman was a cinematographer on "Sentinels," but the film was produced by Manuel Arango and directed by Robert Amram.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, August 16, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 57 words Type of Material: Correction
How I Made It: The Aug. 9 Business section's How I Made It feature, An article in the Aug. 9 Business section about giant-screen filmmaker Greg MacGillivray, said his early efforts with Jim Freeman included "Sentinels of Silence." Freeman was a cinematographer on "Sentinels," but the film was produced by Manuel Arango and directed by Robert Amram.

Tragedy: Freeman died in a helicopter crash in 1976, two days before the premiere of their first IMAX movie, "To Fly."

Breaks and big hits: Impressed with their aerial expertise, the Smithsonian Institution hired the MacGillivray-Freeman team to produce "To Fly" for the opening of the National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in 1976. The film, still shown there every day, has grossed $120 million worldwide. The only higher-earning giant-screen movie is MacGillivray's "Everest," about mountaineers on the world's highest mountain in the accident-filled climbing season of 1996, which has sold $146 million in tickets. "The Living Sea," released in 1995, is third in gross sales at $100 million.

In the works: "Arabia," planned for release in February, a look at Arab culture and the Islamic faith; "To the Arctic" (February 2011); "Return to Everest" (March 2012); "Humpback Whales" (March 2013).

Goal: Encouraging interest in environmental and world culture issues such as global warming, ocean pollution and overfishing. "My main mission is to educate people in a positive way and get them to fall in love with nature." The nonprofit MacGillivray Freeman Films Educational Foundation, founded in 2004, produces educational programs and funds school activities as a complement to the movies.

Key quote: "When we started making a lot of money back in the '70s, we invested well in real estate. So we . . . have zero debt. . . . We can choose to make a movie even if we don't make a nickel off of it -- although we've never lost money on one yet."

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scott.reckard@latimes.com

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