Shaun MacGillivray, president of MacGillivray Freeman Films, knows a thing or two about making Imax films. A precocious adventurer who has been around film sets since he was first learning to walk, he’s produced award-winning 3-D films such as Journey To The South Pacific, Grand Canyon Adventure and National Parks Adventure. The latter was the highest-grossing documentary film of 2016.
And, of course, there is his father, Greg, an Academy Award-nominated director whose involvement in the genre dates all to 1976 and the production of To Fly!, a celebrated early landmark in Imax history.
“Imax films are our bread and butter,” MacGillivray said in a phone interview with the Observer. “My dad started making surf films out at the beach in the late ’60s and then went to Hollywood and got work with Stanley Kubrick on The Shining, and from there got commissioned by the Smithsonian to work on To Fly!.”
This year, MacGillivray Freeman Films turned its focus toward music with the upcoming release of America’s Musical Journey, an Imax feature debuting Feb. 18. In the film, Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Aloe Blacc — an “amazing talent and ‘pro’s pro,’” MacGillivray said — takes the audience on a tour of the United States’ iconic music cities.
The film explores the diverse experiences in America and tells its history through music. There’s even a scene filmed in Dallas.
“There’s a large segment of viewers, I think especially kids, who don’t realize just how much music has changed, grown and innovated in such a recent time,” MacGillivray said. “So many cities worldwide have a unique way of telling their story through music. We found this exploration, as seen through the lens of Aloe Blacc and his initial journey to record an album, would be an unexplored avenue for us to explore in the 3-D, Imax medium.”
Viewers will immediately recognize the jazz-infused line parades in New Orleans, the shimmering walls of Elvis’ Graceland mansion in Memphis and the flash mob breakout dance routines in Chicago’s Grant Park. Look closely, though, and you’ll see a cool piece of Dallas architecture, the Hall Arts building, featured in the film.
There, a group of dancers from the Bandaloop performing group can be seen dangling from high windowpanes and jumping in perfect synchronicity from floor to floor. It is one of the film’s most show-stopping moments, packing such a punch that still photos of the performance are making the rounds in promotional packets accompanying the release. This scene was one of the most complicated to film.
“We tried to figure out where we could film Bandaloop, and it just so happened that they would be in Dallas for a series of performances,” MacGillivray said. “We hauled our big Imax cameras and rigs out there and went right up however many floors it was alongside the performers. It was pretty wild, and there’s actually a lot of really cool behind-the-scenes footage of that, too.”
MacGillivray Freeman Films sought to grow tourism in the cities it filmed, and to help achieve this, the company partnered with destination marketing organization Brand USA for the release of the film.
The filmmakers also decamped to Austin to capture scenes at Austin City Limits, and MacGillivray said that a return trip to Texas could be a worthwhile future endeavor.
“There are so many amazing stories to tell that can’t be told in a 40-minute film. I’d love to do a 10- or 20-part series where other places can be highlighted. I’d love to dive more into this, and Texas would be a great place to start.”