Director Greg MacGillivray thinks big

Filmmaker, whose Laguna Beach-based studio has turned out more than 30 IMAX films, will be feted at Newport Beach Film Festival.

April 24, 2014|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • Filmmaker Greg MacGillivray winds up the large format 70mm roll of color film on a hand crank in his Laguna Beach offices.
Filmmaker Greg MacGillivray winds up the large format… (Don Leach, Coastline…)

Greg MacGillivray doesn't mince words when it comes to the Newport Beach Film Festival.

"It's A+," he said.

The producer-director co-founded MacGillivray Freeman Films with Jim Freeman in the mid-1960s. Although the duo started out producing surfing documentaries and TV commercials and filming for Hollywood features, they quickly moved into the distribution of IMAX films.

Since 1972, the Laguna Beach-based studio has distributed more than 30 giant-screen movies and in excess of 7 million feet of 70-millimeter film and earned two Academy Awards. Meanwhile, MacGillivray, who took over the business after Freeman's death in a helicopter crash in 1976, became the first documentary filmmaker to surpass the $1-billion mark in gross box office earnings.

Next week, MacGillivray will participate in two festival events. The first, on Tuesday, features the surfing classic "Five Summer Stories" and a panel discussion including Laird Hamilton, Herbie Fletcher, Gerry Lopez, Steve Pezman and MacGillivray himself.


The studio's latest film, "Journey to the South Pacific," will screen on Wednesday, accompanied by a program titled "A Retrospective Evening with MacGillivray Freeman Films." The program includes a 40-minute multimedia question-and-answer session with MacGillivray and the presentation of a Lifetime Achievement Award to the 68-year-old.

The man of the hour discussed his illustrious 50-year career in an email interview with the Coastline Pilot. The following are excerpts from the conversation:


You are considered a pioneer when it comes to IMAX movies. How do you respond to this?

I love being a pioneer in a leading-edge artistic community. Still, even 40 years after its invention, IMAX 15/70 film projection is the best in the world — at least 40% better than the best currently used digital projection. Ask Christopher Nolan. He agrees.

When and where did you first meet Jim Freeman? What encouraged you to strike up a friendship and partnership with him?

When I was in college at UC Santa Barbara, he was showing a 3D film about surfing — the only 3D surfing film ever made! I met him after the screening, and we became good friends over the next year. He was a technical genius, and he helped me complete my second film, "The Performers," with music and sound mixing, and making beautiful prints at the best film laboratories — something I knew nothing about. He lived in Santa Ana and was in college pre-med at Loma Linda.

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