Paul “Mungo” Mungeam has never met a corner of the world he didn’t want to explore. Over the past two decades, the renowned adventure cameraman—who has logged many hours working alongside Bear Grylls—has traveled to more than 90 countries to capture the most wonderful (and wild) places on Earth. Now, after years behind the camera, Mungo is stepping in front of it with his own Animal Planet series, Expedition Mungo, which sees the London-based adventurer reveal the truth behind the mythical creatures and legends that have been passed down from generation to generation. We caught up with Mungo to learn more about his work, and to get his take on Bigfoot.
How did you arrive at your current position as an adventure cameraman?
Through a friend, I met Simon Niblett (a renowned documentary cameraman). We got on famously. He offered me a job as his camera assistant; TV suited me and I suited it. The rest is history.
Were you aware that such an occupation existed before?
Yes, but I never dreamed that I would one day do it—I didn’t think it would ever be within my reach.
What are the key qualifications for the job?
To know your craft. There’s no substitute for experience, earned through hard work. Some go to film school, but I learned on the job, more like an apprenticeship. Humility and the right attitude will serve you better in this job than academic qualifications.
What's the biggest misconception people have about what your job entails?
They often think my job is glamorous. I guess, occasionally it can be—granted, I get paid to go to some incredible places around the world—but I work very hard. My job is creative, yet also incredibly physical and all-consuming. The locations are often not glamorous at all, but rather, extreme and regularly very uncomfortable. You have to remember, we are not there on holiday. We are there to achieve what our clients are paying us (pretty well) to deliver.
What is the most rewarding part of the job for you?
I love leading a team. I have risen up through the ranks. I started out making numerous cups of tea and cleaning kits and cars. When I was proven faithful in the small things, I was allowed to move on to greater responsibilities. That’s the way I like my team to work. You earn your stripes and you’re as strong as your weakest team member. I now enjoy giving others the opportunity once given to me (by Simon).
What's the part you dread most?
B-roll and GVs—the shots that fill in the gaps of more interesting storytelling footage. General views are just that: vistas of your location, etc. They are very important, but I now find them so dull to film.
You’ve traveled to more than 90 countries in your work as a cameraman; what’s the most dangerous predicament you’ve ever found yourself in?
There have been too many scrapes to pick one. But if you forced me, which I guess you are, I would pick a night camping with a presenter in a small, two-man tent on the saddle of a mountain pass in the Canadian Rockies. Our tent was pitched in a precarious area, very exposed, with sharp drops on either side. Our guides were useless … They had forgotten an extra tent, so slept in a mocked-up shelter. And they had not charged the satellite phone—our only communication with the outside world, in case of an emergency. We were already very vulnerable to the elements, but that night all hell let loose. The wind was like nothing I had heard before. Our ropes and tent pegs were being ripped out of the ground, so I had to keep getting up and out of the tent (in the craziest conditions) to re-secure them. We didn’t sleep a wink. I lay there thinking, ‘What can I do to make us safer?,’ but couldn’t think of one thing. We were totally at the mercy of Mother Nature.
It was a very long night. Thankfully we lived to see another day. The [pilot] that ended up risking all to rescue us said he had been out all night, helping people, as three tornadoes had blown through that mountain range in one night. That’s three tornadoes! We got lucky.
What’s the one place you’ve traveled to that surprised you the most—for good reasons or otherwise?
Due to watching movies, I always thought deserts would be somewhat romantic and just searingly hot. Having now been to a number of the world’s biggest deserts, I can say that there is very little romance about them—apart from the odd, stunning sunset/sunrise. During the day it can be how I imagine the surface of the sun being: hot! Yet, at night, it can also be incredibly cold. A change which, if you are not prepared, can easily cost you your life.
With Expedition Mungo, you’ve moved from behind the camera to in front of it. What has been the biggest challenge in doing that?
Stepping in front of the camera hasn’t been as difficult as some would think. I have spent 20-plus years working with presenters/hosts and helping them come across well, so it’s familiar territory. The secret is to be 100 percent yourself. If you try to be someone who you are not, the viewer will very quickly smell a rat. So, what you see of me on Expedition Mungo is 100 percent me; like me, or switch the channel.
Your new series seeks to uncover the truth behind the many legends and mythical creatures we’ve all heard about. When planning the show, what’s the one legend you knew you had to tackle—the one that’s always been of interest to you?
There has always been so much talk of the Bigfoot/Yeti legends. To actually meet, face-to-face, a number of eyewitnesses who claim they have seen one was amazing. I was shocked by my reaction, from “cynic” to pretty much “believer.” You’ll need to watch the series Expedition Mungo to hear the stories and see the people, but they are very compelling accounts. One guy lost his power of speech for over two weeks, from fear of what he saw. He lost his job and was ousted by his community for “losing his mind.” My question is, if he was lying, why wouldn’t he just hold his hands up and say “Hey guys, I was only kidding,” and get his job and community back? Rather, he stayed true to what he saw as he swears it was real, the truth. I have to give him the benefit of the doubt. (Look out for the Argentina episode, coming soon!)
What advice would you give to someone looking to follow your career path?
Be willing to start from scratch. Put in years of hard work and learn your craft (if you try to take a short cut, beware: you will get found out). Check out the closing credits of shows that you are inspired by and note the production company who makes it; contact them to see who supplied their technical equipment. Contact the facilities company and see if there are any vacancies to work/learn there.
You need to learn about all the equipment before you’ll ever be let loose to shoot a TV show. Plus, it’s not all about equipment or filming, but also learning the etiquette of being on a filming set (where to stand and where not to stand, when to talk and when not to talk, etc.).
If you weren't doing this, what would you be doing?
I would either have made a career as an artist of some kind or I would have joined the Royal Marines Commandos.
I so wish I had five lives, as there’s far more I would love to have done. Having said that, I never take for granted how fortunate I am to have a job that I love. I wish the same for you.
Walt Disney once said, “If you can dream it, you can do it!” Why not?
Expedition Mungo airs on Animal Planet on Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT. Watch the video below for a sneak peek of tonight’s episode, in which Mungo travels to Namibia to learn about the dog-headed pig monster.