Roger Munns on Life After Nottingham
Emmy award-winning cinematographer Roger Munns (Mathematics, 1996) is well-used to the dark and cold depths. A fearless underwater cameraman based in Sabah, Malaysia, he spends his days capturing the exotic, secret world of sharks, cephalopods and reef-dwelling critters that many of us will never see first-hand. Come with us as Roger takes us beneath the surface...
"I've always had an affinity with the ocean"
“I grew up in North Cornwall with the Atlantic on my doorstep. I first fell in love with scuba diving in Australia when I worked as a dive master in Byron Bay and the Great Barrier Reef. After moving to Malaysia, I was offered a position as a videographer with a company called Scubazoo. I’d always loved taking photographs on land and wanted to put my two passions together. I jumped at the chance – that was 15 years ago and I’m still here in Sabah working as a cameraman!”
“Through my work I get to visit some of the world’s most beautiful and wild places, along with amazing and unique opportunities to get up close to the most incredible animals. On one shoot, I spent a month jumping in the water with blue whales in Sri Lanka – that’s the biggest animal ever to have lived on our planet. On another, I spent two hours in the warm, sheltered waters off Tonga free diving with a friendly and very inquisitive baby humpback whale. It was the size of an elephant and had the mind of a puppy – a truly unforgettable experience.
“I’ve had some scary encounters too – I was recently stung by a scorpionfish on a shoot. That was the most intense pain I’ve ever felt. People have died or lost limbs to necrosis from similar stings so I had an intense few hours before I was confident my encounter was limited to shock, tears and off-the-chart pain!
“I love big marine life, like manta rays and whales, but I really enjoy filming character-led stories with smaller, reef-dwelling critters. My favourite animals to work with are cephalopods, like cuttlefish and octopus. They’re highly intelligent, charismatic and almost otherworldly with their colour and shapeshifting abilities.”
“I’ve been privileged to work on some big BBC landmark programmes that have been broadcast around the world – it’s still a rush to see my name in the credits. One of my proudest moments was winning an Emmy for Cinematography for One Life in 2013 but I think that was eclipsed by having Sir David Attenborough narrate my footage for the first time in Life in Cold Blood. That was a career-defining moment for me and I’ve worked on several of his projects since then. He’s the Daddy of natural history film making isn’t he! They say never meet your heroes but I’ve been lucky enough to meet Sir David a couple of times and he lived up to his reputation every bit. What a legend.”
"The marine world is changing"
“I have dived the same coral reefs over the past 15 years and they are in significantly worse condition now than before. There are so many factors that impact on coral reefs – from soil erosion and runoff to rising sea temperatures and destructive fishing practices. I think it’s hard to be positive about the future of coral reefs right now – more needs to be done to protect these unique habitats for future generations.
“I’m a documentary cameraman so I’m there to document what’s going on but sometimes it’s hard not to intervene and change the situation. I’ve filmed some hard-hitting environmental footage – from hundreds of sharks being finned in a fish market in Taiwan to a turtle in a ‘marine park’ with rope through a hole drilled into its shell to keep it at the surface so tourists could see it. I’m often filming marine life in the shadow of vessels trying to catch the same animals. But I believe that getting the footage out to a wider audience is usually a better way to affect real and lasting change for our marine wildlife than anything I could do personally at the time.”
“My absolute favourite dive spot is my local spot, Sipadan, in Sabah. It’s a limestone pinnacle rising 600m from the ocean floor, and has the most dense, biodiverse marine life I’ve ever seen on a coral reef together with the friendliest turtles in the world.
“I’ve yet to dive the Galapagos – that’s still very much on my bucket list. I’d also like to get underwater with some more unusual animals like elephants, bears and hippos. In the freelance world, it’s hard to know what you’re doing from one month to the next, but one day I’d love to film a theatrical underwater documentary. Hopefully the right project will come along!”