50 Greg MacGillivray Quotes for the 50th Anniversary of MacGillivray Freeman Films

All photos courtesy of MacGillivray Freeman Films
Greg MacGillivray and Jim Freeman on their '60s surf film set.

MacGillivray Freeman Films, the Laguna Beach makers of some of IMAX's most successful documentaries including Everest, The Living Sea and the upcoming Journey to the South Pacific, is celebrating its 50th year in the biz. That milestone is actually being celebrated with events at the Newport Beach Film Festival this evening and Wednesday night.

NBFF Recommendation of the Day: Five Summer Stories

To honor the 50th anniversary ourselves, we present 50 quotes from a recent interview with company co-founder Greg MacGillivray, the first documentary filmmaker to earn more than $1 billion in ticket sales at the worldwide box office. Take it away, maestro ...

1) "I started out doing surfing films back as a high school kid, and the times then it was just non-commercial moviemaking, just for the fun of it."

2) "I made three films for Newport Harbor High School [his alma mater]. Two were a half hour long and showed the times around our campus. Just about all of it was shot in hidden-camera/home-movie style, kind of goofing around. I wanted to get a feeling of the campus and the people and the teachers. It was all shot with a telephoto lens and hidden-camera techniques. The third was a scripted, seven-minute film for the drama department."

3) "I loved projects. That's what really gets me excited. If it can include other people, great. Or it can just be me and no money to pay other people. Back then, if I needed an actor, I'd get someone from the drama department or my girlfriend Barbara to be in a shot and do something funny."

4) "I wasn't really a total geek but I was certainly on the geekish side. I loved math, physics, I loved drafting and art. I studied physics in college but filmmaking was really my intention."

5) "Those years, because I was just doing it all alone--there were no employees; I did not even know many people--it was a complete joy. You just depended on yourself."

6) If you got up early and checked the surf, you might get lucky" and find something to shoot. "If I missed a day good waves, if I did not film it or didn't take advantage of the great weather, the offshore wind or terrific conditions, I'd be depressed."

7) "Offshore winds, which only arrived every three months or so, were ideal because they made the waves look that much prettier. They are fringed with white on top. It's one of the prettiest things in nature."

8) "It was a complete shock when the first film came out" while in college "that actually made a profit, to me and my parents, sisters and everyone. Then it tripled and quadrupled the money that had been invested and I recognized I could actually turn this into a career."

9) "When Jim Freeman and I started working together [in 1966], now there were two people and I had a friend to feel the joy with or we'd both be down because we missed a day" of good surf. "It was different."

10) Today's surf films are "hard to watch. ... There are so many. Most are about certain contests or the pro surfers or are made by surf trunk companies. I watched one of those the other day. They are well done, but they are different than the surfing films of the '60s."

11) "Back then you'd go to theaters to see them. You'd be waiting six months for the thing to come out. It would be a big date to go out and watch a surf film. All your surf friends were there. It was a big cultural event--the only cultural event because there were not even surf contests back then."

12) "It was the way surfers shared ideas, talking about fins and surfboard shapes and whether you've ever gone to Mexico to surf. There were not the easy ways of communication we have today. Nowadays it is either on the Internet or in a magazine and everyone has been everywhere around world surfing. They'll know which tide and what time of year it breaks in Chile. It's stunning how much information there is out there today. There is no mystery. In the '60s, everything was a mystery."

13) He and Freeman's "subtitle for Five Summer Stories [1972] was 'The Last Surfing Movie,' a play on The Last Picture Show that came out a year earlier. After we finished Five Summer Stories, we decided that was going to be our final surfing movie."

14) "We had invested our hearts and souls into surf films, but by then we were already working in Hollywood and being offered assignments to produce and make special sequences" in movies like The Towering Inferno and Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

15) "Jim and I said, 'We can't tell the story any better or any differently; let's move on to something else.' It's not as much fun doing the same thing over and over and over. We started challenging ourselves with other kinds of films."

16) "We kept getting these assignments to produce certain things for films with huge budgets. These were really inventive filmmakers, so we figured we could learn from them."

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