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MacGillivray Freeman Growth Plan: MacG

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Laguna Beach-based MacGillivray Freeman Films is best known for its giant-screen nature films, which have rung up more than $1 billion in worldwide box office sales at Imax movie theaters.

Its growth prospects these days are centered on a new division dubbed MacG Media. MacGillivray Freeman launched the brand in June to encourage corporate sponsors of its documentaries to partner with the company for film and video shoots targeting a broader range of distribution.

Coca-Cola Co., ConocoPhillips Co., Microsoft Inc., Porsche and others have been tapped since the company’s earliest days to help underwrite costs of some its theatrical films. The new division was created to help push such collaborations into online projects and other nontraditional media.

MacG Media has added staff to market the new division to corporate clients more aggressively.

“We had a model that we wanted to offer to the public,” said Shaun MacGillivray, director of MacG Media and son of MacGillivray Freeman Films founder Greg MacGillivray.

MacG Media offers corporate and nonprofit clients a range of film, TV and digital-production services. The division’s roots can be traced to a project with Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co., which partnered with MacGillivray Freeman in a project tied to polar bear conservation efforts of the World Wildlife Fund. The campaign’s spots were sponsored by Coca-Cola and have run in movie theaters, television and online.

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“Corporations are joining nonprofits in cause-related marketing campaigns, looking for ways to communicate their message on environmental, health or other issues,” said MacGillivray Freeman spokesperson Lori Rick.

MacG Media is able to generate original content or draw from its large Imax-format film library with content that reaches across the globe. Among the new division’s hires were members of a digital-production team of producers, writers, editors and communications specialists.

Privately held MacGillivray Freeman does not disclose financial data. It now has about 40 employees overall, including 15 added in the past two years.

Ocean Impact

MacGillivray Freeman’s founder and President Greg MacGillivray is a Corona del Mar native and self-described “ocean lover.”

He and Shaun MacGillivray began to look beyond Imax productions when they created a 10-year initiative called One World One Ocean in 2010. The campaign aims to capture the depths of the ocean through Imax and 3D digital film technologies showcased in four Imax films, an eight-part TV series, a 3D theatrical documentary and hundreds of online social media videos.

“We realized in order to make the most impact and to get people to care about the ocean, we could no longer do just Imax films,” Shaun MacGillivray said.

The campaign is designed to help more people care about the ocean, “whether they live in Orange County or Omaha, Nebraska,” Greg MacGillivray added.

The campaign is funded by MacGillivray Freeman with support from organizations including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Oceana, Aquarium of the Pacific and others.

“Any profits we receive from the One World One Ocean films and television shows will be reinvested into new ocean education films and programs that support our campaign’s overall mission of getting people to see and value the ocean in a new way,” Shaun MacGillivray said.

The ambitious undertaking was inspired by the MacGillivrays’ experiences during the six-year filming of To The Arctic, an Imax film that focuses on the importance of the Arctic Ocean and how its wildlife fits into the world ecology.

To The Arctic, which represents the campaign’s inaugural film release, premiered in April and grossed $8.6 million through September. The other three films in production or development are One World One Ocean, set for release next fall; Humpback Whales, set for March 2015; and Everest: Conquering Thin Air, set for March 2016.

Company Roots

MacGillivray Freeman films play for years at a time. Past releases have managed to turn a profit, but the company still views itself as a “for-purpose company more than a for-profit company,” Greg MacGillivray quipped.

The company dates to the 1960s, when college friends Greg MacGillivray and Jim Freeman founded MacGillivray Freeman Films after a string of successful surfing films. The duo was approached by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., to make a movie using Imax technology for their new Imax theater.

Freeman was killed in a helicopter accident in 1976, just a few days before their first Imax movie, To Fly!, premiered. To Fly! still plays at the Smithsonian and has grossed more than $127 million.

MacGillivray Freeman has made 36 giant-screen films, mostly shown at museums, science centers and aquariums. Imax plays mostly Hollywood films in its more commercially oriented venues these days. MacGillivray Freeman executives say the OC company hasn’t been hurt by Imax’s Hollywood push and gets its nature documentaries played on as many screens as ever.

To The Arctic is playing at 50 Imax theaters in North America, including California Science Center in Los Angeles and the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in San Diego.

The company sends production crews out to film shoots for a collective four to five months annually, with Greg or Shaun participating in the majority of the expeditions.

Shaun MacGillivray has been taking a more active role in all of the operations of MacGillivray Freeman of late and recently added the title of company co-president.

“My dad is still very involved with the decision making, and of course will be as long as he wants,” he noted.

Greg MacGillivray has no plans to retire. One of his favorite things to do is to sit at the beach and rip out pages of the 42 magazines he gets for ideas on future film projects.

“We’re very lucky to do what we do,” he said.

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