Get to Know Shaun MacGillivray, President and Producer of MacGillivray Freeman Films

Manning Global meets Shaun MacGillivray, the President and Producer of MacGillivray Freeman Films. Shaun’s responsible for the highest grossing documentary of 2016 –National Parks Adventure – as well as the following critically-acclaimed documentaries: Dream Big (the highest grossing documentary film for the giant screen in 2017) To The Arctic, Humpback Whales, plus many more!

Shaun grew up working with his dad, Academy Award nominated filmmaker Greg MacGillivray, on shoots all around the world. He graduated from Emory University with a degree in Economics, then went on to receive a graduate MFA degree in Film Production from the University of Southern California where he specialised in directing and producing documentaries.

Shaun also leads the business development and partnership team for MacGillivray Freeman, working with fortune 500 companies, associations, and non-profit organizations to tell their stories from IMAX to iPhone. He has successfully raised funding of over $40 million for IMAX documentary films in the last three years. He is currently producing the company’s forthcoming IMAX films: Exploring Wild America, Ireland, and Flying With Superheroes.

Firstly, what was it like growing up with an Academy Award nominated filmmaker, Greg MacGillivray, as a father?

I feel really lucky and grateful. I grew up on location where my dad was filming for IMAX big screen projects traveling to places like Indonesia, Palau, the Bahamas, Singapore and across the U.S. As I got older, I loved being able to see the footage, how the shots translated into the storyline, the development process through rough cuts, and to the final project with hundreds of kids and families watching it in a theater.

The craziest experience I had was filming a mother polar bear and her two cubs for five straight days up in Svalbard, Norway, as she hunted, fed, nursed and protected her family from male polar bears. We watched and filmed them as they leapt from ice flow to ice flow. They became the main characters in To The Arctic, a film I produced and my dad directed, released in 2013. It became one of the highest grossing documentaries of our company.

You’re currently partnering with Fortune 500 companies on several new projects – please could you tell us more…

We work with many fortune 500 companies, associations, NGOs and brands including Subaru, Bechtel, Expedia, Brand USA, Air Canada, American Society of Civil Engineers, Youku, REI, Pacific Life and many others. For the film Dream Big, we worked with the American Society of Civil Engineers and Bechtel Corporation. The film and its entire campaign is the first-of-its-kind documentary, revealing to audiences the genius behind some of the world’s biggest engineering marvels. It has inspired 72% of students watching the film to pursue careers in engineering. We are so proud to work with these organizations to craft a real, lasting impact for youth.

Our recent film venture that yielded outstanding results was 2018’s America’s Musical Journey, produced in partnership with Brand USA. Narrated by Morgan Freeman, the film showcased musical cities across the U.S., communicating to audiences the influence of music on our national culture and how diversity and immigration have played huge roles in genres that developed in America over the past century, from jazz to rock to blues. It has also been great to see just how much the film inspires students to explore new musical expressions and offered dynamic methods for music educators to teach with the film as an example. Millions of people see these films around the world. Our marketing campaigns drive billions of earned media impressions. But most importantly they actually inspire and change measurable behaviour.

Can you tell our readers more about MacGillivray Freeman Films: your structure, how you operate as a company, plus how your business model differs to other privately owned production, distribution, and marketing companies…

We define a family company and have grown over the years to about 30 employees in our Laguna Beach headquarters. We operate as a mini studio, from production and fundraising to distribution and marketing.

We are storytellers. We make films for clients across all platforms – whether TV, social, media, VR, giant screen – from iPhone to IMAX. Our films play to millions of people throughout the world in theaters for decades, but audiences can also see our films on their own screens through streaming on Netflix, Amazon and other broadcasters, platforms. Earned local media from the theaters, resulting in billions of media impressions, drive awareness around the film and our partners. With so much content out there, we are able to rise above the clutter by building out large global marketing campaigns that generate great word of mouth and ultimately lead to people seeing films either in the theater or on their TV screen.

You produced the highest grossing documentary of 2016, National Parks Adventure, why do you feel it resonated with its audience so much?
We told an inspiring story around a unifying message through an incredible visual experience, while sparking audiences’ emotions in magical locations, and moviegoers felt that importance. First, this film celebrates the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service and its valuable work protecting this country’s natural spaces. Between the film’s touching music, like Bruce Springsteen’s rendition of This Land is Your Land, and Robert Redford’s narration from his perspective as a conservationist, the film spoke to the audience’s emotions. The film transported moviegoers to the U.S. national parks through visuals captured uniquely for the IMAX experience and back in time to when John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt first created the National Park Service. People walked out loving the film and actually planning trips to visit the national parks. One couple was inspired to visit more national parks and even got engaged at a park because of the film!


What’s your proudest working accomplishment?

The film industry is tough. Running a sustainable business with success, with great clients and awesome results is rare. We have worked hard to position ourselves to make these strides in this industry. Our company supports very passionate and creative people, and being able to continue to make inspiring, emotional and behaviour changing films is powerful and a dream for all of us.

Enough about business, let’s get to know the real Shaun… what are your hobbies outside of work?

Living in Laguna Beach I’ve always been into surfing, now with three kids that’s becoming a bit harder to do! I’m usually doing something fun with the family – my kids are super into sports, so we go to a lot of soccer and baseball games together. I’m also a pro at ping pong!

What was the best piece of advice you were ever given?

Quality. That’s something I definitely learned with my dad and it is the most important value for our company. Creating the best quality films. We create emotionally powerful stories that inspire real behaviour change.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

We still haven’t done a surf film for the giant screen. My dad started the company with surf films, and it would be awesome to bring that history to the IMAX screen.  

Finally, what is your life motto?

Never stop learning. Every day is a chance to learn, improve, and grow!

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