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Hey all, we had the pleasure of a chat with Greg and Shaun MacGillivray, the father/son director/producer team behind some of the most amazing IMAX theatrical films ever made.  Their newest project, To The Arctic follows a family of polar bears through the perils of a disappearing landscape.  Read on to see how they recruited Paul McCartney and Meryl Streep to their cause and how you can help the polar bears find a new home.

Dig it!


To The Arctic

Director Greg MacGillivray &

Producer Shaun MacGillivray


The Lady Miz Diva:  Iím always curious as to how documentarians choose their subject matter.  How did you decide to focus on the Arctic and the plight of the polar bears for your latest film?

Greg MacGillivray:  With every one of our IMAX theatre films over the last thirty-five years, and weíve done thirty-five of them, what I try to do is choose a subject that is somewhat unique; something that people havenít seen before.  The second thing, I need a film that is going to lend itself exceptionally well to the gigantic screen; not all subjects do that.  So, big locations are really great because people want to be transported to places they canít go on their own.  The third thing is I love to be challenged by the technical and the physical.  For example, getting the camera to the top of Mount Everest was a first.  Shooting an IMAX film in the Arctic is a first.  Getting the aerials in the Arctic as we did in the underwater shots is a first. Those are fun things for me and I know that the audience will appreciate them because theyíre unique.  Itís a lot of fun for me, but it requires a lot of research because as a director, youíre continually looking for stuff that is amazing that other people havenít seen.


LMD:  To The Arctic has such an important message for today and I think that you make it very clear for everyone to understand that something bad is happening to the polar bears and other Arctic wildlife.  Does current events figure very much into your decisions as to what subjects to shoot?

GM:  Not often, though it does help for current events to be part of it.  Thereís kind of a flip side because these IMAX theatre films stay in the market for twenty years, so you donít want to be too newsy, or youíre going to be dating yourself.  But in this case, you can pretty much predict that this problem of climate change is going to be with us for decades.  And obviously, people are talking more about conserving energy and getting alternative energy sources and we just want to underline or amplify that mission by showing how incredibly beautiful and wonderful this place is and the fact that it needs to be preserved.


LMD:  Besides being educational, To The Arctic is very entertaining.  How do you achieve the balance between making a film that presents this real world as you want people to see it and perhaps learn from, and making a movie thatís entertains the audience?

Shaun MacGillivray:  Thatís a balancing act we work a really long time on.  This film took us six years to make; two years of research, scripting and preproduction, and then four years of actual production in the field, where we were there for eight months of that four years.  For us, itís when you get all the dailies back, when youíve been up there for so long and you start to do the storytelling and the editing; you really wanna be able to create a film thatís both educational, but also really entertaining.  We didnít find our main characters until the last expedition when we went to Svalbard, Norway, just nine degrees south of the North Pole; we found that mother polar bear and her two sons, and so throughout that, the script is obviously changing with what you get with wildlife.  Lucky for us, once we started editing the footage, and we have a great editor named Stephen Judson, we really found this incredible story of motherhood and connecting it to the polar bear and the caribou and the walrus.  It made it so it was a great theme for the film and our mission is to inspire people to want to protect the Arctic.  {To} Inspire people to want to protect nature, and through this film I think we have a really good chance of getting fifteen-to-twenty million people to get excited to want to become a part of the solution.


LMD:  Along those lines, I was honestly dreading this movie a little bit because I canít stand to watch animals die in documentaries or nature shows, but you handle some of the obvious calamities very gracefully.  Do you make your films with an eye to the fact that there are folks like me who canít stand to see that, as well as young children who could be frightened in the audience?

GM:  Oh, of course, yeah!  Our audience is the four year old to the eighty-four year old, and twenty to twenty-five percent of our audience is schoolkids going on field trips provided by their teachers.  So, for us, itís really important to strike that balance; the film being hopeful, being family entertainment, but very educational so that we actually do fulfill our mission, which is the emotional storytelling and getting people to become part of this movement, which is getting people to protect the Arctic.


LMD:  When youíre watching these events happen in front of you, like with the male polar bear stalking the mother and cubs, how do you stop yourself from throwing a shoe or trying to help the subject in distress?

GM:  Well, itís tough.  Weíre not war correspondents or war reporters.  Weíre not used to staying out of the way; weíre used to getting involved.  So, when that occurred we all wanted to yell and go, ďGet going, quick!Ē  But thereís really nothing that you can do; we do live by a very strict enforcement of an ethical code of filmmaking.  We canít interfere in the wild activities.  You canít get the boat between the male polar bear and the female and try to stop the scene.  Even though you want to, you know that you canít.  And so, we were there kind of like you; just hoping that the mother would be able to succeed and the cubs would get away, and sure enough, she was up to the task and she shows up the male, and essentially what we show in the movie, which is exactly the way it happened.  But you go, ďOh, thank God I didnít have to shoot pictures of the male actually chewing the cub apart.Ē  That wouldíve been horrible.


LMD:  Thank goodness the mother was so tough.

SM:  Yeah, she was just an incredible single mom.


LMD:  Back to the entertainment factor, you have a rather unknown actress as your narrator {Meryl Streep} and some up-and coming musician from England {Paul McCartney} giving you some songs for the soundtrack?  Can you please tell us how they got involved?

GM:  When we started the editing about two years ago, our composer suggested Paul McCartney.  Weíd worked with George Harrison on our Everest film and Iíd always wanted Paul McCartney to be involved with one of our films.  And we knew that not only was he an animal lover, but he was a vegan and that he and {his late wife} Linda were very activist with animal causes, but how to get to him, you know?  Heís insulated and so popular.  We got to him through a surfer friend of mine.  It turns out that his brother-in-law, Lindaís brother is a surfer and so we got through the back door, showed him movies and he got excited.  Paul got to see the movies and we explained to him how we wanted to use his songs.  He was completely supportive; in fact, he even sent us the forty-eight-track original recordings so that we could mix the tunes in a way that had never been heard before.  It is a huge cause for him.  Heís a very active guy.  He has his causes; heís a very causes guy.  And so, we were able to mix his music in a way that has never been heard.  The IMAX theatre is six-channel sound and has the best reproduction in the world of cinema, and so we were able to maximize the results with his musical recordings, which were all done so perfectly well.  And of course heís seen what weíve done and he loved it and he canít wait to get his family and all his grandkids down to an IMAX theatre to see it on the big screen.

Meryl is kind of the same thing; she loves nature, she loves conservation causes.  Sheís been involved in two movies before and she loves our films.  When her kids were growing up, theyíd all go down to the Museum of Science in Boston to see them.  She has four children.  Sheís a terrific mother and I wanted a mother as narrator of the film, and she is my favourite mother -- and of course my favourite actress -- my favourite creative artist of all time.  It just so happened that we recorded her narration the morning after she won the Academy Award for The Iron Lady.  I was almost hoping that she wouldnít win, because I knew that sheíd party too hard.  But sure enough, she arrived right on time and was chipper and fun, and sheís brilliant, number one as an artist, but also brilliant as just a person.


LMD:  You have such an eye for pacing, momentum, beautiful camera shots and how to keep your audience interested, I wonder why youíve never made a narrative feature?  Is that something thatís ever interested either one of you?

GM:  Well, for me, I went through that stage in my twenties.  I worked for Hollywood doing sequences for The Shining and Big Wednesday with John Milius, and various other directors; Iíve worked on Towering Inferno -- all kind of films.  I just loved making movies, and of course, working in Hollywood, youíre working with the best and the brightest, and youíre working with the best funding and distribution, too.  But when the IMAX theatre market was begun back in the early seventies, my partner, Jim Freeman and I were invited to make the first film for the Air and Space Museum in IMAX, and that was the first hit film.  When the film came out, it became an enormous hit and that gave me the opportunity to sort of say, ĎOkay, hereís a turning point in my life; should I devote my life toward educational films and films made in this exceptional format, or should I stick with the Hollywood opportunities that are opening up to me?í  And I took that road toward the educational, and Iíve never regretted it.  Itís really something after thirty-five of these IMAX films in thirty-five years, I still love doing it. Every day I love my job. And now itís even better because Iíve got my son with me and heís gonna be able to carry the torch further.  Weíre starting this One World, One Ocean campaign to try to get people to pay attention to the ocean and love and respect it as we do, and try to protect it, as well.


LMD:  Can you explain more about One World, One Ocean?

GM:  Well, the One World, One Ocean campaign, the first film is To The Arctic.  Thereís educational elements, online elements and all kind of stuff.  If you went onto our website, OneWorldOneOcean.org, youíd be able to see a lot of great educational tools, and thatíll continue over the next ten years, but also, the twenty-year One World, One Ocean campaign.  The next film comes out in a year and itís all about coral reefs and itíll be warmer. {Laughs} Which would be nice.  But itís basically educating the public about how important the ocean is.


LMD:  Obviously, thereís the cold of the Arctic, but can you talk about the other challenges that came with this choice of subject?

SM:  Itís so hard to make a film already in the IMAX format.  Youíre working with bigger cameras; the cameras are about four-hundred pounds.  Youíre working with film, IMAX film, which is ten times bigger than thirty-five-millimeter -- the biggest film format there is -- and you only have 3 minutes per roll, as well.  And the reloading takes about 10-15 minutes.  Top it off with that fact that it costs $1,000 per minute and polar bears donít really take direction, and you spend a lot of time waiting for this wildlife, and you donít know exactly what youíre going to get.  All in all, when youíre going for the Arctic, itís so hard because itís so cold, which means the batteries and cameras sometimes stop to work.  Probably the most difficult thing for us was going underwater; going under the ice and thatís where our cinematographers will go down under the ice where the waterís twenty-nine degrees.  Itís actually colder than freezing; water freezes at a lower temperature, and their hands would start to freeze up within twenty minutes.  Their regulators froze up.  Once your regulators freeze up, you donít have any more oxygen, so you gotta find that hole as quickly as possible.  So, there are major, major challenges, but the lucky thing for us is we got incredible footage, got an incredible story, and it looks so good on an IMAX screen because we shot it all in IMAX.


LMD:  What would you like audiences to take away from To The Arctic?

GM:  The reason why we made this film, the reason why we spent six years making this film is because we wanted audiences to walk away from this film to be so inspired, to be so educated that they wanted to do something.  And what weíve done is, weíre working with partners; weíre working with the World Wildlife Fund, the Alaskan Wilderness League in an effort to get people to donate to a protected reserve up in the Arctic.  You can go to our website, OneWorldOneOcean.org, thereís educational resources, online videos, but also a place to donate to this reserve so the polar bears always have a place to call home.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

April 13th, 2012


For those who would like to know more about the MacGillivrayís One World, One Ocean campaign, or to donate to the nature preserve, please click this link: http://www.oneworldoneocean.org/



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