Into the blue: behind the scenes of Blue Planet II
A MAGICAL introduction to the underwater world in Byron Bay led Roger Munns to a dream career filming the ocean's wildlife.
Now, 17 years after earning his open water scuba diving certification, Munns is part of a global team behind the stunning footage in Sir David Attenborough's Blue Planet II.
From clever cuttlefish and co-operative octopus to the personable clownfish, the British native filmed more than half the footage that features in the Reefs episode as well as two segments for the premiere episode One Ocean.
In this Q&A with The Guide, Munns talks about working with natural history icon Attenborough and some of his most exciting underwater experiences while filming for Blue Planet II.
Q: As a filmmaker, does the fact that you're filming for Blue Planet II put added pressure on you?
A: It really is an honour to be involved in the making of a big landmark series such as Blue Planet II. There was such an amazing team of producers, production co-ordinators and researchers on the series that we were usually very well prepared for every shoot. That support and teamwork meant that there was actually a little less pressure on me, as we succeeded or failed as a team. However, I put huge pressure on myself regardless of the job I'm working on. I'm my own worst critic and I'm never truly happy with my shots. There's always room for improvement.
Q: Coral reefs are such a beloved ecosystem that does get a lot of attention in other documentaries and tourism campaigns. How did you go about finding something new and different to film?
A: Research, research and more research! The production team scoured scientific papers and contacted scientists, recreational divers and all manner of ocean-going folk to dig out amazing stories and new behaviour before we set out to film anything.
Q: You were here in Australia on the Great Barrier Reef for your segment on the grouper and octopus, what were you trying to capture?
A: The grouper and octopus story was a fascinating example of how two reef-dwelling animals, who would normally compete for food, have learnt to work together for their mutual advantage. That in itself is very cool, but even more amazing was the fact that research by Dr Alex Vail has shown that these two species have learnt to communicate by means of a referential gesture. It was fantastic to watch a fish and a cephalopod collaborating and communicating.
Q: Is there a certain amount of luck that is involved in capturing some of these animals and their behaviours?
A: Information, preparation, local knowledge and experience were the main elements in capturing some of these amazing behaviours. Of course luck (both good and bad) can always play a part in proceedings. We'd often turn up to film something at what was supposed to be the best season for conditions, only to be met with howling winds and terrible visibility. In those situations you just have to be patient and ride it out, or know when to quit and regroup for another attempt.
Q: Was there a level of risk or danger involved in filming your whirlpools segment?
A: We had a hugely experienced local cave diver with us in Brian Kakuk but that was a shoot when my adrenaline definitely pumped. When the whirlpool was forming the suction into the cave system was incredibly strong. It was like a huge toilet had just been flushed! We used climbing equipment to basically abseil down and secure ourselves deep in the mouth of the cave but at times the current ripped so strongly I could barely lift the camera to get a shot!
Q: We know our oceans face many challenges right now. As someone who spends so much time underwater what's most concerning to you?
A: There are so many threats to the underwater world and the animals that make their home there. I'm based in SE Asia and here the threats come from overfishing, destructive practices like fish bombing, plastic pollution, rising sea temperatures (climate change) causing coral bleaching, and pollution from agricultural run-off. There are threats on a local and global scale. All of those threats are serious but climate change feels like the biggest one to me because it seems like it will take so long to slow down and reduce our global emissions. Mass coral bleaching events appear to be increasing in frequency and even the homes of some of the characters we filmed for Blue Planet II were bleached recently. I really hope that viewers will take the message home that these ecosystems are fragile and beautiful and need to be protected.
Q: What originally inspired you to get into underwater filmmaking?
A: I fell in love with diving after taking my open water course in Byron Bay. The first time I hovered weightless over a coral reef just blew my mind. I knew I wanted to work underwater for a living so I married my passion for photography with my love of wildlife, travel and diving. David Attenborough's original Blue Planet series came out just as I began my filming career in Borneo in 2001. It was a massive inspiration to me at the time, so to have worked extensively on the sequel really is a dream come true.
Blue Planet II airs Saturdays at 7pm on Channel 9.