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Q&A: Animal Planet’s Mungo on wild myths and mysterious creatures

Adventure cameraman Paul “Mungo”Mungeam has worked with some of the biggest names on TV, including Bear Grylls, Will Ferrell, Simon Cowell and Ben Stiller. But after spending years behind the camera, ...
May 26, 2017

Adventure cameraman Paul “Mungo”Mungeam has worked with some of the biggest names on TV, including Bear Grylls, Will Ferrell, Simon Cowell and Ben Stiller. But after spending years behind the camera, Mungo is taking up hosting duties in the new Animal Planet series Expedition Mungo.

In the series, Mungo will explore the myths and legends he’s heard of during his 20 years of traveling the world, hoping to separate fact from fiction.

In each episode, Mungo will tackle a specific legend, such as an unidentified reptile terrorizing a village in Borneo, a shape-shifting creature that locals in Namibia believe to be linked to witchcraft, and a massive lizard in Liberia that resembles a dinosaur thought to be extinct. Mungo will meet with people who claim to have seen the creatures first-hand, and search for clues and evidence in hopes of capturing these myths on camera to reveal the truth behind them.

Expedition Mungo is produced for Animal Planet by Blast! Films. For Blast! Films, Edmund Coulthard and Jon Stephens are executive producers, and Craig Blackhurst is series producer. For Animal Planet, Keith Hoffman is executive producer and Sarah Russell serves as producer. The series was developed by Kurt Tondorf, senior vice president and head of development for Animal Planet and Science Channel.

realscreen caught up with Mungo ahead of Expedition Mungo‘s premiere on Sunday, May 28 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Animal Planet.

What was the genesis for Expedition Mungo?
Throughout my 20+ years of filming in over 90 countries around the world, I’ve heard some truly amazing stories. Some seem totally far fetched, but others are spine-tinglingly real. This series provided the perfect vehicle for me to return to countries and investigate some of those stories — to define which stories are fact and which are fiction. To use my cameras and camera technology, to try to capture evidence on camera — the opportunity and trip of a lifetime

Why do you think there is an appetite for this series?
I believe this series will scratch the viewers inquisitiveness, right where they itch. People have often heard of such legends and myths, so are fascinated to see what I can find out — investigating, face to face, on the ground where they originated from.

I’ll take the viewer to some of the most extreme environments on the planet and they will feel that they are on the journey with me and my crew. Come join us, if you dare.

What challenges did you face with production?
Logistics can be super challenging when travelling to extreme locations. Filming Expedition Mungo took us to some very remote and often hostile environments. To deploy a crew into such places is no small feat. Getting to some locations took up to five different forms of transport — a true expedition.

Safety is always a great concern. In such remote locations, even the smallest injury, if not treated quickly, can  escalate into a very serious medical situation. To have solid extraction plan in place was essential, however, some of our locations were so remote, that any extraction plan proved impossible. This was a huge concern for the production team back in the UK.

One of the draws to my job as an extreme cameraman is being thrown into an uncontrolled environment. My crew and I were totally at the mercy of Mother Nature and often found ourselves pitted against ferocious weather conditions. To operate and maintain expensive and sensitive technical (camera and sound) equipment was a constant battle. The only way to succeed in doing this was to execute our drills/techniques that we’ve learned through experience. For example, keep the cameras acclimatized at all times. Laborious, though it was, every night (no matter where we were camped or how exhausted we were) we had to clean and attend to our kit — if you look after your kit, your kit will look after you.

In most adventure series, the role of a host and a cameraman are quite separate – how do you balance the two in Expedition Mungo?
The switch from being behind the camera to in front of it, for me, proved not to be as big a deal as some would think. I have filmed with presenters for over 20 years, so I understand that the best way to come across on camera, is to be 100% yourself. The minute you try to be someone who you’re not, the audience will sniff you out as a fake.  I was totally myself. What you see is what you get — like it or lump it.

The advantages of being behind the camera are that you’re busy the entire time you are on location — there’s always something to do and you focus on the pictures and technicalities of the shoot. When you are spending more time in front of the camera, you have to think more about the content of what you are thinking and saying. Your opinion will be made very public, so you have to be far more aware about what you are saying.

The advantage of doing a bit of both, is as simple as still getting to do what I do best (film). But also, getting to voice what I think, after all those years of keeping quiet behind the camera. Even though it was never something I actively pursued, it’s proven to be surprisingly refreshing.

What is the target audience for this series?
Anyone who loves adventure, extreme travel, puzzling mysteries and a good team effort. I guess you may be expecting the answer to state a ‘demographic’, but, I believe Expedition Mungo will have universal appeal. It’s less about age, class or gender and more about pure interest. If you love a full-on adventure, fueled by a ‘who dunnit?’ mystery, then tune in.

What did you learn during the production of this project that you think would be valuable to other professionals in the industry?
Sometimes, we get distracted and fuss about the smallest imperfections (shots or sound) but, ultimately content is king and that is what truly matters. The untrained (technical) eye, probably will not even pick up on some of the highly polished tricks of the technical trade… but they will jump out of their skins, or shed a genuine tear when the content is there. That moving experience is what will leave a lasting impression upon them. TV is still one of the most powerful communication tools in the world.

Did you use any new or revolutionary technology?
We used some seriously cool thermal imaging cameras. These cameras (including use on a drone) gave us eyes and information intelligence where before we were totally in the dark – literally. The same cameras were are used by police and security forces. Exciting to have access to such cutting-edge technology.

What’s your favorite moment from the series?
It’s hard to answer this question without giving away too much, but: In Liberia, there is a seriously cool motorbike ride, which was one of my most fun part of the expedition.

In Borneo, we spent a whole night, hunting down enormous crocodiles to film. The weather closed, we had bees in our boat, which was running out of fuel and we were seriously exposed and vulnerable. Yet (as often happens) the more challenging it became, the more I enjoyed it.

In Namibia, I had an encounter with a huge lioness, which is one of my most memorable experiences in all my years of travelling and filming. You must watch to see what I am talking about.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

One of the strengths of the Expedition Mungo series, is that every episode stands out from the next. Each country we traveled to (Liberia, India, Argentina, Namibia, Peru and Borneo) is so different. The environment, culture and challenges all differ greatly. Episodes are set in some the most remote jungles on Earth. Yet, others bizarrely start in huge bustling cities. Some are hot and some are cold. Some end with investigations that are left open, but also some are actually solved. So, don’t think that by watching one episode that you’ve seen the series — watching all six episodes is essential.

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