A Look Behind the Lens: A Brief History on MacGillivray Freeman Films Early Years

Long before MacGillivray Freeman Films came to be, there was a thirteen-year-old boy who had been given a gift. Carefully wrapped in birthday trimmings was a priceless present made of inexpensive plastic: the simplest Kodak movie camera. 

To a young Greg MacGillivray, his adventure into filmmaking had just begun.

Where It All Began

Greg decided to combine his two favorite things: film and surfing. At 15-and-a-half years old, and equipped with a Learner’s Driving Permit, Greg borrowed his father’s Buick Woody wagon and headed for Trestles Beach in San Clemente to shoot some surf video.

With friends stepping in as actors, surfers, and divers, there were plenty of opportunities to practice the craft of film. After all, they say practice makes perfect, so practice is what he did. 

From eighth grade all the way up until he was 18-years-old and college-bound, Greg spent nearly all his waking hours focused on making his first documentary surfing film. 

Yes. A film four-years in the making. That’s a commitment, fueled by passion. 

The film came to be called A Cool Wave of Color and marked the first of many films to come. 

Dropping Out of School and Pursuing Dreams  

Malcolm Gladwell, journalist, author, and all-around-brilliant mind stated in his book Outliers that it takes roughly 10,000 hours to master a skill. That’s about 416 days. Greg had given this and more to filmmaking and he didn’t plan to stop anytime soon. 

During a film screening in Santa Barbara, Greg met a fellow filmmaker who was creating the same type of films he was. This man was Jim Freeman, a pre-med student at Loma Linda University who had an artistic streak and loved developing projects on his own.

He was a risk-taker with an independent spirit, creating films using techniques that were outside the norm. Greg admired this and a true friendship began.

As time passed, the two independent filmmakers kept in touch, talking about movies they’d seen and what was going on in worldwide cinema news. Together, the two of them came up with an idea they felt compelled to make – exploring the freedom and creativity of surfers who traveled to South America on a next-to-zero budget, finding adventure and discovery in this unknown land. That film was Free and Easy. 

And just like, Jim and Greg dropped out of school at the end of the semester and set off to make their film and chase their dreams. 

MacGillivray Films Becomes MacGillivray Freeman Films 

With the success that came from Free and Easy, Greg and Jim were in need of hiring their first employees which meant it was time to take their newfound business out of their parent’s houses and into an office space. 

For a couple of months, they considered their options and eventually decided on a place in North Laguna Beach in a historic building called the Pyne Castle. MacGillivray Freeman Films made its home there until the 70’s when Greg purchased the Villa Bella, located on PCH with gorgeous ocean views. It’s been home to the MacFree work family ever since. 

Over the past 50 years, MacGillivray Freeman Films went from surf films to Hollywood, to the Smithsonian, and across the world. Storytelling is in our blood and continues to be what we’ve dedicated our life’s work too. 

Visit our films page to see some of our most recent projects. 

To learn more about the history of MacGillivray Freeman Films click here. And keep an eye out for Greg MacGillivray’s debut book Adventures of a Surf-IMAX® Theater Filmmaker set for release in 2020. 

Recommended Posts