Imagine that you get inspired for a film career when you’re just 12 years old, then taking that passion and creating a high school film project that takes nearly five years to complete and becomes the first successful film in what turns out to be a five decade career that shows no sign of slowing down.
Greg MacGillivray’s story goes back to 1959 when he began production on his first movie about surfing called “A Cool Wave of Color.” At 80 minutes in length, the film was released in 1964 and was actually profitable. With his parent’s best wishes and support, MacGillivray dropped out of college after his first year to pursue filmmaking full time.
His parents advised him that he could always return to college, but that first film stood out.
“People recognized the boundaries that were being pushed,” said MacGillivray. And he never stopped pushing.
MacGillivray soon joined an esteemed group of surf filmmakers that included iconic names like Bruce Brown of “Endless Summer” fame, John Severson, Bud Brown, and future partner Jim Freeman.
In 1967, MacGillivray and Freeman teamed up on a surf film called “Free and Easy,” and MacGillivray Freeman Films was born.
The duo worked together on numerous films and commercials, including the iconic 1972 surf film, “Five Summer Stories,” which became a cult film classic.
In 1970, IMAX was developed for the World’s Fair. Using 70mm film instead of the conventional 35mm which was the norm, IMAX allowed for unparalleled visual beauty and imagery—a perfect fit for imaginative filmmakers like MacGillivray and Freeman, who were hired by The Smithsonian Museum to make an IMAX film called “To Fly.”
Released in 1976, “To Fly” is the second-highest grossing IMAX Theatre film in history and the most successful corporate sponsored film of all time. Over 40 million people have paid to see “To Fly” in IMAX screenings throughout the world, and it still runs today at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, making it the longest running paid admission movie in history.
In 1976, Jim Freeman passed away, but MacGillivray kept the company name intact as a show of respect for his best friend and filmmaking partner.
MacGillivray went on to produced and direct dozens of films, and ranks as the most prolific IMAX film creator on the planet.
His signature images include many aerial and underwater shots and panoramic views that create the feeling of being there.
MacGillivray is especially focused on making people “pay attention.” When he talked about the damage being wrought on this planet and in our waters, and the long-term effects, MacGillivray said that we all must be active and proactive in conservation on all levels.
“We are killing the ocean, which many do not realize produces 50 to 70 percent of the oxygen on this planet,” he said. “The Rain Forests devastation is more publicized, but truthfully if the ocean dies, eventually we do, too.”
The Newport Beach Film Festival celebrates MacGillivray’s 50 years of filmmaking with a two special screenings.
The first event takes place on Tues., April 29 at 5 p.m. at South Coast Village Theater with a screening of “Five Summer Stories,” which represents the culmination of Jim Freeman and Greg MacGillivray’s first decade of making surf films together.
A panel discussion will follow with surfing luminaries Laird Hamilton, Gerry Lopez, Herbie Fletcher, Pete Townend, Greg MacGillivray, and Steve Pezman, who will discuss the impact of Five Summer Stories and the dramatic changes in surf culture of the.
“Five Summer Stories” has not been shown in a theater for more than two decades, so this is a rare opportunity to re-experience history firsthand.
The second event is a new film called “Journey to the South Pacific,” which screens on Wed, April 30, at 7:30 p.m. at the Regency Lido Theatre. This is the Orange County premiere of a film about a young boy’s adventures amid the islands of West Papua.
At the Wed. screening, MacGillivray will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Film Festival.
Though he is nearing 70, his legacy remains intact—his banner is being carried by his son, Shaun who decided to abandon his economics degree for a career in filmmaking. His daughter is also involved as a production manager as well as his wife.
With a staff of 25 to 30 (depending on production schedules), the team does about one large project per year. They’ve been based in Laguna Beach for decades, where MacGillivray continues to surf.
MacGillivray Freeman films have grossed in excess of $1 billion, rarified air in the film business. They’ve been nominated for two Academy Awards and received numerous accolades.
There is little doubt that MacGillivray Freeman Films will remain IMAX leaders for many years to come.