Fastidious, detail-obsessed filmmaker from Laguna Beach, California, a two-time Academy Award nominee, best known to surfers as the co-creator of 1972's Five Summer Stories. MacGillivray was born (1945) in San Diego, California, the son of a navy officer and former lifeguard, and raised in Orange County's Corona del Mar. He began surfing at 13, and started making short surf films in high school, which he screened in his garage, charging 25 cents for admission.
MacGillivray's first full-length film, the sparkly and well-photographed A Cool Wave of Color, came out in 1964 and featured California surf breaks exclusively. The Performers, MacGillivray's second film, followed in 1965, not long after he met Jim Freeman, another Orange County college-age surf filmmaker. MacGillivray-Freeman Films was formed in 1966, and Free and Easy, the pair's debut effort, came out the following year. Waves of Change—immodestly referred to as "Super Film" during its long three-year production—came out in 1970; surfboard design and surfing techniques were changing so fast at that time, however, that the film was dated upon arrival. (In 1971, Waves was reissued as Sunshine Sea for a brief mainstream theatrical run.)
Technically and artistically, the MacGillivray-Freeman team had no rival within surfing. They invested in the best equipment, worked harder and longer than anyone, and were both fervent students of the craft; their movies were better framed, better edited, and more color-saturated than anything produced at the time. Five Summer Stories, MacGillivray-Freeman's last surf film, originally released in 1972 and updated regularly until 1979, further advanced the duo's reputation and became a surf movie classic.
MacGillivray-Freeman was hired by Hollywood producers to do second-unit work on Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1973) and The Towering Inferno (1974). They made their first IMAX film, To Fly!, in 1976; just before the movie debuted in Washington, D.C., at the National Air and Space Museum, Freeman was killed in a helicopter accident. The film came out as planned, and as of 2014 it was still screening daily at the Air and Space Museum.
MacGillivray went on to become the world's best-known IMAX film producer, creating 25 of the 70-millimeter movies between 1976 and 2002. Two of his films—The Living Sea (1995) and Dolphins (2000)—received Oscar nominations for Best Documentary Short Subject. Adventures in Wild California, another MacGillivray IMAX film released in 2000, featured a big-wave surfing sequence filmed at Maverick's. In 2011, Documentary.org called MacGillivray the "the king of IMAX . . . the grandmaster of the giant screen."
MacGillivray was a cameraman on Big Wednesday (1978) and The Shining (1980). Alone or with Freeman, he also made five surfing shorts: The Day War Came to Malibu (1965), Moods of Surfing (1967), The Loser (1968), Who's Best (1969), and Expression Session (1971). MacGillivray was the top vote-getter in the motion picture category of the 1967 International Surfing Magazine Hall of Fame Awards; at the 1996 Surfer Magazine Video Awards he received a Lifetime Achievement honor; in 1997 he was profiled in 50 Years of Surfing on Film, an documentary series produced by Opper Films; in 2000 he was inducted into the Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame.
Hollywood Don't Surf!, a documentary MacGillivray co-directed with former Surfer editor Sam George, explored the strained relationship between mainstream big-budget moviemakers and surfing. It debuted at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.