The INSIDER Summary:
- Paul “Mungo” Mungeam has been an “adventure cameraman” for 20 years, and worked with Bear Grylls for 10 of them.
- He’s done some pretty epic shoots with celebrities on “Running Wild with Bear Grylls,” and says what you see is what you get.
- Now he’s getting his own show called “Expedition Mungo.”
Paul “Mungo” Mungeam has spent 20 years scaling cliffs, dangling out of helicopters, and following survivalist Bear Grylls through the wilderness — all while carrying an enormous camera on his shoulders.
As an acclaimed “adventure cameraman,” he’s traveled to over 90 countries to film Grylls navigating extreme conditions on “Man vs. Wild” and keeping celebrity guests alive on “Running Wild with Bear Grylls.” He’s also filmed other documentary work for National Geographic and Lonely Planet.
Mungeam now has his own show on Animal Planet called “Expedition Mungo,” but we couldn’t resist asking him about what it’s like to film Grylls in action.
What you see on TV is what you get.
Mungeam describes filming Grylls’ television shows as “big boys using big toys.”
“We’re in and out of helicopters, cool cars, swinging on ropes on the precipices of all different kinds of environments, which are very extreme,” he said, “and all of that is summed up by one word: fun.”
Another fun aspect of the job is working with Grylls himself as part of a close-knit crew.
“He’s a great guy,” said Mungeam. “He’s enthusiastic, he’s fun, he’s got a real thirst for adventure, and he’s quite a character. He’s a whirlwind.”
When shooting, Grylls is usually accompanied by two cameramen, two sound people, a director, and a safety team to look after everyone.
“We’re all incredibly close friends,” he said. “We trust each other with our lives every day, because what we do can be quite dangerous at times.”
To the safety team’s credit, Mungeam hasn’t encountered any death-defying moments on the job, but scaling cliffs, jumping out of airplanes, and traversing rough terrain crawling with venomous animals comes with a certain level of risk.
“One of my jobs as the director of photography for shoots like ‘Running Wild’ is to push the boundaries and take risks in order to get the shot,” he said. “What I try and do is to see the shot, work out how we can best cover it, and, if need be, to get put into a dangerous area in order to capture that killer shot… But at the end of the day there’s a saying that we all say quite regularly — it’s only TV, it’s not worth dying for.”
The most difficult shoot of the “Running Wild” series was on Scotland’s Isle of Skye with Ben Stiller.
On “Running Wild,” celebrities join Grylls in the wilderness to hike, swim, climb, rappel, and leap their way to an extraction point. Climbing the Cuillin Mountains in Scotland in stormy weather proved challenging for the crew as well as the guest of honor.
“It was definitely the toughest shoot that I’ve done physically on the ‘Running Wild’ series, and poor old Ben didn’t really know what hit him,” said Mungeam. “There he was, thrown out into the mountains with a small crew of hairy blokes who do this for living, so I think it was a bit out of his comfort zone. But it was a lot of fun, and often it works out. The toughest challenges end up making the best TV.”
One of Mungeam’s favorite episodes to film featured Kate Winslet.
“Kate was such a lovely girl, incredibly down to earth, far more up for it than I thought she would be,” he said. “She loves the outdoors, she’s done plenty of camping, I think she’s done some hunting before and stuff like that, so she was bang up for it and that was a real joy.”
He said Grylls isn’t afraid of much — except for, perhaps, cocktail parties.
Heights? No problem. Wild animals? More like dinner. But swanky parties? Mungeam said that’s the stuff of Grylls’ nightmares.
“His comfort zone is hanging on the rungs of a helicopter, not necessarily making small talk over a canape,” he said.
Still, Grylls is human. When he does feel afraid, he whistles to distract himself.
“I’ll let you into a secret — he does say this himself so it’s not a huge scoop — but if you ever see Bear whistle when he’s doing something, that’s his way of overcoming his fear,” he said.
Grylls is known for eating creatures he finds along the way, but Mungeam doesn’t usually partake.
“I’m there as the cameraman,” he said. “If I go down with illness, then the camera is no longer working and that means we haven’t got a TV show.”
There have been some occasions in his travels where he couldn’t refuse, like when he visited a tribe in northern Laos on a shoot for Lonely Planet.
“The elders were passing around dog’s penis at this wedding ceremony and they wanted all of the men to try it,” he said. “So reluctantly, because I couldn’t offend them, I had to try a bit of dog’s penis. And it didn’t taste like chicken.”
Mungeam is now stepping into the spotlight for his own TV show, “Expedition Mungo.“
“Expedition Mungo” follows Mungeam and his crew around the world as they seek to capture terrifying mythical monsters on camera. He acknowledges that some of the legends they explore are “ridiculous and very colorful and kind of outrageous,” but says that’s all part of the appeal.
Mungeam and his team certainly do rough it at times, subsisting on local delicacies like chimpanzee feet and sleeping in hammocks in the middle of the jungle, but Mungeam’s documentary-style approach offers a more contemplative tone than the daredevil shows he’s worked on with Grylls.
“It wasn’t about survival,” he said. “It was more about the story, but we had to survive where the story led us.”
Mungeam has learned a lot in his 10 years working with Grylls, but “Expedition Mungo” is a show all its own.
“I’m Mungo, I’m not Bear Grylls, and there’s no point in trying to replicate something that Bear’s done brilliantly,” he said. “The world can’t have another Bear Grylls. I don’t think there’ll ever be one.”
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