Hollywood photographer turned shark documentarian and advocate Michael Muller is on the podcast today. For thirty years Muller has been shooting the most famous faces in the world. In between shooting actors and movie posters, Michael is traveling the world’s oceans documenting sharks with nothing between himself and these curious creatures. Flipping through his beautiful Sharks book published by Taschen, one would think Muller wasn’t afraid of anything. Like the rest of us, Michael possesses his own personal battles and shares some of the work he has done to ease bits of his anxiety or make peace with the pain. One would wonder how shooting 17-foot sharks, that he was afraid of, has helped him navigate to some inner peace. Father of three daughters, husband, artist, friend, and protector of sharks makes Michael Muller one of the bravest people I know because he’s leaning into the things that make him uncomfortable. Enjoy.
Listen to the episode here:
- The Early Years [00:02:49]
- Swimming with Sharks [00:14:35]
- Facing Your Fears [00:21:28]
- Talking to Tony Robbins [00:40:25]
- Universal Law [00:44:48]
- The Face-Off [00:52:22]
- Personal Changes [01:02:21]
- VR Project [01:11:08]
- Adapting to What’s New [01:21:42]
Michael Muller – Shark Expert Finding Comfortability In Uncomfortable Situations
My guest is photographer Michael Muller. Michael has been an incredibly successful Hollywood photographer. He shot every Marvel poster and actor that you can think of. More importantly, Michael Muller is a photographer who takes his passions and brings them into the next part of his art, which is his fear and reverence for sharks. He took over thirteen years to shoot the majestic great whites, something he was afraid of, and shot them in their environment.
He explains what we know, what we don’t know, what we’re afraid of, and what we don’t understand about sharks through his images and VR project. We also talk about being creative and what it’s like to take on an unknown occupation, it’s unchartered waters. How do you adapt? How do you change? He’s a father of three daughters. How does his wife feel about him diving with the great whites? I love Michael Muller as a person. I learned so much about sharks and him. I hope you enjoy the conversation.
“A great man does not seek applause or place, he seeks for truth. He seeks the road to happiness and what he ascertains he gives to others.” That is a quote by Robert Greene Ingersoll. There are many obvious things to celebrate about you and many badass things. I asked your wife, “What are we missing about your husband, Michael?” She quoted that poem. She said that regardless of what you’re going through, you always put your attention on other people or want to help other people. It was a powerful trade of yours.
When I heard that quote, the first part talks about applause and going for truth. I could relate to both parts of it because for a long time and a big part of my life, I was seeking that applause. From a journey within, it changes and evolves into seeking the truth. I’ve always had a big heart for trying to help the people and the planet. I probably should put some of that attention towards myself, which I do but not as much though.
You do a lot of things, Muller. You have a family. You have three daughters. You are traveling around the world shooting and making projects happen from scratch. Let’s back up to someone growing up. Maybe you could share a little bit of where you grew up and what the expectation was going to be of you when you went out into the world.
I had an interesting childhood. I was born twenty miles north of here in Thousand Oaks. My dad was developing that whole area, Newbury Park, Calabasas. We moved when I was 3 or 4 to Northern California. Halfway through third grade, my dad got transferred to Saudi Arabia. I moved to Saudi Arabia halfway through third grade.
I went to a parochial school, a Catholic school. In second grade, my mom had an experience in her life. He yanked us out of that and put us in public school. Six months in public school, I got yanked out and moved to Saudi Arabia going into a classroom with 17 girls and 3 boys, which wasn’t bad. I like those odds.
You’re always surrounded by women.
Women play a big pivotal role in my life. I’ve both known but I discovered it later. It was an amazing opportunity to travel. We traveled every 3 to 4 months around the world and went to 60 countries growing up. The dichotomy is I had a dad that was German, blue-eyed, blond-haired, math engineer, incredibly smart, and a mom who is Native American Portuguese. I got a mix of both of those. The expectations of me growing up, my father didn’t quite understand me or knew what to do with me but they always were supportive.
We all go through this as parents. For example, I’m learning. I have a daughter who speaks a different language. She is more heart-based and creative. As a parent, you think, “I’m going to make them fit into my plan.” You then go through it a little longer and you think, “Maybe I need to learn a new language.” Do you think your dad thought, “I don’t speak the same language as this kid.”
It’s also generational. He came from a way different generation than even we did and our kids are getting from us. At that time, men didn’t have the tools to show their emotions and nurture in those ways. He didn’t understand the artistic side. He didn’t quite understand or knew what to do with the pain that I was dealing with as a kid. I know he saw it and wanted to but didn’t have the capacity to.
Did your mom?
My mom had a different set of tools. Yes and no. When you ask about the support, what stuck out to me was I remember when I came home one day and I was like, “I want to start riding a bike. I want to do triathlons.” They’re like, “If we get you a bike, are you going to ride it?” I’m like, “Yes, I’m going to ride it. I’ll do it.” They’re like, “Okay.” They went and got me a bike. I started racing and doing triathlons at a pretty young age. That stuck out to me. My dad gave me my first camera. That was his hobby. He let me travel to Europe at 16 by myself with my best friend to do our snowboarding calendar. I also grew up traveling around the world. It was a different time. You’re bringing up your daughters. I was thinking about mine.
As parents, we want to protect them, help them to have that perfect childhood, and not have those traumas and challenges. The fact is that every kid or every person goes through that and we can’t avoid it. At least for myself, I accept that. I know that I’m part of those challenges. Like my parents helped shape me, I’m helping to shape them in good ways and maybe not such good ways or ways that I’d prefer not to. That’s part of the cycle. It’s accepting that and learning how to look at yourself and be like, “How do I help give them tools to deal with this path that I sent them now?”
That’s an interesting moment when you realize it as a parent. Part of the job is also being a part of the problem. There’s the surrender. It doesn’t mean you don’t stop trying to be better but it’s that moment of like, “No matter what I do or how much I’m trying to pay attention, there’s a part of the way that I am and who I am that is part of the problem for my kid.”
[bctt tweet=”As parents, we want to protect them, help them to have that perfect childhood, and not have those traumas and challenges. The fact is that every person goes through that. We can’t avoid it.”]
Also, the acceptance of that. It’s a huge pill to swallow. It’s huge to be able to be like, “I am part of the problem.” You can also be part of the solution too. You can either avoid it and deny it and try to point your fingers at all the other things that caused it or accept it and be like, “How can we work around this? How do I help give them the best tools to deal with this so they don’t have to repeat the cycle over and over again and wait till they’re in their 30s or 40s to figure it out?”
Your wife, Kimberly, said that one of the other things that she admired so much that she had a lot to say was that you’re always willing to look at it. Do you think you’re always like that? Personally, it took me having kids to say, “I’ll take a look at it.” For everyone else, it was their problem. Meaning, “If you don’t like it, beat it.” When my kids came around, I was like, “I better take a look at that.” Do you think you’ve always been willing to look at it?
A little bit. Kids made it much more in your face as well as the wife. When you marry a husband or a wife, at least in my opinion, it’s a mirror to say, “Here’s the work you got to do.” We’re accustomed to pointing our fingers, “You did this,” or, “She did that.” It’s Michael working on Michael and how I hear things and how I react to things and that’s it. That’s the only thing that I can evolve, work on, and change if I’m going to have a different experience tomorrow or today. I can continue to have the same experience and continue doing the same thing and not look at it and point my finger at everyone else.
Looking at it is scarier in the short term and not looking at it is scarier in the long term.
It’s the hardest work we do as humans and it’s the work that gets avoided the most, that inner work and that brutal honesty, “This is me.” I’ve heard embracing your shadow self and integrating it into part of you. For so long, I tried to avoid it. I had this shame and guilt surrounding it instead of being like, “It’s part of me.” I come out from behind, put my arms around, and be like, “Acceptance.” When I walked in, you asked me how things were doing. It’s this expectation of others to do what they say they’re going to do or to live with these principles that you don’t find in everyone these days.
Knowing you, those principles are innate. I’m sure your parents helped talk about that but it feels like that’s how you’re hardwired. You have this expectation about yourself that you’d be like, “I said I would do this.” It’s interesting to watch all the ways that you’ve expressed yourself. Let’s go back. After school, tell me what you decided to do. In high school, what’s in your mind? What are you thinking? How are you going to express yourself and out in the world?
I was thinking, “How can I get the heck out of here as quickly as I can?” My car was packed and I left the day after I graduated high school and moved to San Diego. I know that was on my mind.
What was the plan? Did you have one? Are you going to shack up with somebody?
No. I was doing triathlons at the time. I was fifth in the world. I was up there. I was competing with professionals. I was turning pro, which I went down and did for a year. San Diego and Boulder Colorado were the two meccas of triathlon.
Muller, would you say that you’re built like other triathletes?
Back then, I had 3% body fat.
It’s not about body fat. You’re a stronger person.
This body was those five years of doing those triathlons. No one in my family is built the way I am.
What was easy for you and what was hard in the race?
Swimming and biking. I was a water polo player coming from a swimming background. Living in Northern California, biking the Berkeley hills 50, 60 miles a day, the runners couldn’t catch me. I hated running. I went to San Diego and it was swimming, biking, and running for the next ten years. What am I going to do? My photography.
I had been doing photography in high school, shooting all the big rock bands that came and then doing the first snowboarding calendar with my friend. We were shooting professionally and getting published. I was like, “I’m going to do photography because I don’t want to swim, bike, and run for ten more years.” That’s not a long-term plan. I moved to Boulder for a season and then I ended up coming to L.A.
If someone looks up your pictures, you’ve shot a million different famous actors, musicians, covers, movie campaigns, and on and on. Many years back, I would drive around in Malibu and there’d be a poster on the side of the road of a shark, this beautiful lit shark, poster size, randomly showing up. How does somebody who has a family isn’t in the system? You say in the poem, “Seeking praise.”
I saw this even with Laird. When Laird got a good job in the industry, Laird chilled out. You don’t think that’s going to impact you and you think, “I’m doing what I do. I don’t care.” By then, you had a ton of people and success saying, “Good job, Muller.” Meaning you had done it and you were working and you were successful. How do you then get into working with sharks and starting that part of the journey?
That, “Good job,” I seek that my entire life. It was never enough. You can’t get enough of that, “Attaboys,” from people. That’s a big void to fill if you’re trying to fill it with a career from the outside stuff because it’s a monstrous hole that you can’t ever fill. It’s exhausting trying to fulfill that with work, which I did for many years. I’m like, “Look at me, I’m good enough. I’m lovable.” Much of it was that. I didn’t hear, “Good job,” or, “Good boy.” For so long, it took what it took to get me to the place where I didn’t need to get that or don’t need that anymore but to chill out.
I’ve always had personal projects where I didn’t want a client and I didn’t want anyone telling me what to do. I want to shoot and create on my own terms for what I want. The animal stuff came about due to the fear of being a surfer and being out here in these waters and having this belief that a shark was going to kill me every time I was sitting on my board. I was like, “I want to go and see one of these and photograph it.”
Not knowing where that journey was going to end up taking me but, I took those steps towards my wife. Kimberly heard me talking about the sharks. My birthday was right around the time I was figuring it out and she got me a card good for one shark trip. She got me car racing and other things. I never collected that. When I went down the next day, I signed up, and went out into Guadalupe and saw the great whites.
Who took you?
I went on a charter boat. It was the one and only time with sixteen other people I didn’t know. I went out and I was in the cage. Sharks went by me and we locked eyes and my life changed. It set me on a whole different course. Nine months later, I was in Gálapagos shooting the IWC watch campaign. I went down there and I even found out what was happening to our planet. I had kids at that time and that was when I was like, “This is my project. This is what I’m going to do.”
One of our daughters wanted to go diving with sharks. Laird has an intense reverence for sharks. It’s probably a different expression than you had prior to this relationship that you have with sharks now. When I say reverence, sharks aren’t going to keep Laird out of the water. When Laird is in the water, he’s not like, “A shark is going to eat me.” If he’ll get shark vibes, he’ll get out of the water. You’ve had your own experience where you’re in the water and you can feel there’s a vibration.
I have the shark vibe.
I’d love for you to share the difference. When you’re on top of the water, it is incredibly different than when you’re underneath and looking at them. You took Laird and Reece. Something that Laird said that was interesting was that, first of all, you could see that each shark had a different personality when you’re under. Some were shyer, some seemed a little more rambunctious, some were curious.
Also, the eyeball. When they’re not coming out of the water or biting something and then putting a protective sheet over the eye, he’s like, “You can see the eyeball. You can see the spirit of the animal.” I was even talking to someone about experiencing that with a whale. We can understand that with whales and dolphins, them looking at us and us looking at them. Maybe we don’t have that understanding with an animal that we think is prehistoric and cold like a shark.
Even with a whale, you have an idea of what it’s like. I can tell you from personal experience, this is the closest to God I’ve ever been. I had a 70-foot pregnant whale shark slow down long enough for me to put my hand on its temple and look into its eye, which is about the size of your head. An eyeball on a whale shark is big. Looking into that dinosaur’s eyeball that close, I’ll never forget that moment. These great whites, when we see photographs of them or when we see them on TV, they have those black, soulless eyes.
There are a couple of things. One is you couldn’t see that detail. The cameras have gotten good enough in low light. When you’re in the water and they swim by, they have irises. It’s like humans. When I locked eyes, I was like, “You’re not this soulless killing machine. You’re not a monster. You’re an animal. You have that spiritual connection.” We locked eyes and I said, “I see you and you see me. I want to get out of this case and swim with you.” That’s what’s going through my mind and body. I was like, “No, you’re still this perfection of evolution.” Great whites have been around for millions of years and they’re such beautiful machines.
It’s done right.
It’s built to do one thing and one thing right.
I always love when people face their fear. Kristen Ulmer talks about if you have a kid and they go, “That scares me.” We’re not supposed to say, “Don’t be scared.” It’s, “Are you in the mood to be scared today?” It’s not, “Never be scared,” or, “Not always want to be scared.” It’s, “You’re right, it is scary.” If you’re going to go in that cage and be around these animals, it is scary. Are you in the mood?
What I’m getting at is your willingness to look at yourself and also your willingness to attack your fears. This is the same trait. It’s showing up in a different way. When you’re going to get into the cage, how do you do it? Many people would be like, “I would like to try these things or have something in my life that I want to face but I can’t.”
You can but you’re choosing not to. I like that, “Don’t be scared. In my head.” It’s like, “Don’t be.”
It’s like, “No, it’s scary.”
Especially for kids, it’s scary to them. It’s like, “Don’t be scared of lightning.” It’s what they are. They’re terrified. To me, to get in the cage, I don’t know what you need to know except and why you need to be talked into getting into a steel cage. You’re the one in the cage and not the sharks. You’re well protected. For me, it was getting out of the cage that was the big game-changer. Opening up that steel door, closing it, and going out, that was taking that step and there’s no turning back.
That’s a process. For anyone reading, you don’t just go on a shark dive and then come out. There’s training about how to respond and how to be. This is not an overnight thing where you went from inside the cage to outside the cage.
It’s decades. There are a few of us that do this. There is no training for free swimming with great whites. There are few people on the planet that do it.
Let’s back up. You go into the cage and you’re triggered to know more and to be closer. What is the quest in which you say, “How do I get educated?” This is writing the rules as you go. How do you start to acquire the right information to put yourself in the position to be there with them?
It was a combination. Only in retrospect can you look back and see all the dots that connected. I was shooting a Speedo campaign for nine years with Michael Phelps. We got the Olympics happening and it’s finally a whole new slew of swimmers. For a long time, it was Phelps, Natalie Coughlin, and all these swimmers that were photographed for the bulk of their careers.
I was shooting Speedo, which meant I was underwater a lot. I was doing all their athletes and not just their swimmers but their entire campaign. I want to photograph a shark and I’m doing this commercial work, the movie posters, and what have you. I was like, “I want to light a shark as well as Phelps with strobe lights underwater. I want to bring a studio underwater.” When I went and looked, these lights didn’t exist. I had to make them, which is a whole other conversation. I ended up creating it with some guys. I have 4 or 5 patents on the most powerful underwater strobe lights in the world.
All of this was going on. I went on the trip to Guadalupe and saw the great whites and my life changed. I locked eyes. I came back to Los Angeles and the president of this watch company, they bring him over to my house because I was putting their watches on actors because they were the first green watch. I liked what they were about. It’s an environmentally conscious brand. He saw my shark pictures. I told him about these lights I’m making and he gave me their aqua timer campaign. Every four years, they do this campaign. All of his employees looked at him like he was crazy. I’m not a Nat Geo underwater photographer guy.
Isn’t it funny how the thing you can be good at can work against you? You’re like, “Yeah, Hollywood photographer guy.”
People don’t have the imagination. It’s like, “I’m dealing with the fashion industry.” I went down there but I went down there naive to what was happening to our planet. I went from being inside of a cage with great whites to no cage being with sharks, hammerheads, Galápagos sharks. There’s no learning curve.
Who’s with you? Is somebody with you?
I’m with this guy, Gray, who was leading the expedition, ten years with Cousteau, and has done every dive there. This is the best dive spot in the world. I was with him in a cafe in Paris and I’m like, “Of all the guys, Russia with vodka and wine so they wouldn’t freeze, this guy has done it all.” He’s like, “Where are we going?” I’m like, “Come on, you’re just saying things.” He’s like, “I’m telling you, this is the best dive you’re ever going to do.” It is and was some of the best diving I’ve ever done.
I remember being out of a cage with a hammerhead and Galápagos sharks circling me. I look and then there are twelve of them. My heart rate starts going up because that belief system that they’re all going to eat me kicks in. I pretty much jumped out of the water and got on the boat pretty quick. I worked my way up. I remember swimming into 300 hammerheads and they all broke off and turned away. Three hundred sharks simultaneously swam away from me, which is the case with sharks with the exception of great wives. They’re more scared of us than we are of them.
When you said the exception of great whites, is the great white more curious? What is it that you think is different?
It’s a killing machine. It’s designed to eat. They’re not scared of us.
They wonder if you’re food.
They do. There’s only one way to not be prey with them in the water. Everything in the ocean swims away from a great white. If you see a Great white coming at you and you start to try to get away from it, you’re in big trouble. That means you have to stand your own with an SUV with teeth and 2.5 tons of muscle coming at you, which is an experience. It’s hard to even put into words. You’ll appreciate this. On that trip, I remember I was up on the roof at night and all the stars were out and I was thinking about life and what I’d learned down there. We’re killing 100 million sharks every year, which I didn’t know about.
There are five deaths a year.
Around the world.
How many trillions of people are in the water every year?
You do the math.
There are not trillions on the planet but in and out.
In and out on a yearly basis.
We kill 100 million.
They get five of us. When they get those five of us, we put it on the news.
[bctt tweet=”Great whites are killing machines. It’s designed to eat. They’re not scared of us.”]
We keep that narrative going. Also, it’s a little bit like crocodiles and alligators. These animals are prehistoric. They’ve tapped into some primal core of who we are that it’s like, “I get the system here. I get your place on the ladder as far as power.” It’s the perfect design. It’s right, the fear and the reverence but 100 million.
We think we’re in control of everything and we’re numero uno. Great whites put us in our place. Sharks put us in our place because we realize that they are above us. When you get in the ocean, they own it. We don’t own it. That’s hard for us humans to swallow. What do we do? We have to demonize these animals so that we can feel good about it.
3% of the ocean has been explored.
We know more about outer space than we do our own planet. It’s this race to space rather than the sea. What’s down there?
You have your first dive. Do you have a special rig with you? Did you get equipment? Were you jerry rigging it?
I brought down all these lights. I go to the Galápagos and I’m shooting with these sharks out of the cage. I found out we’re killing 100 million, half of the Great Barrier Reef is dead, the plastic problem, everything. I’m up on the roof and the stars we’re out and I said, “My daughters aren’t going to see some of this in ten years.” I was like, “We’re in trouble.” I said about connecting the dots. There’s this exhibit called Ashes and Snow by Gregory Colbert. Did you see that?
That show had an impact on me. I was like, “This guy spent a decade on this. This is what he worked on.” I am not doing a gallery show until I put in that type of work. That had an impact on me and the art proportion of my career. Sharks were going to be that. I’m like, “This is going to be my Ashes and Snow.” I was in Galápagos and I was thinking of my daughters and that sent me on the course to come back and start chartering boats, bringing out these lights, bringing out my guys, and shooting sharks in a way that had never been photographed before.
You go on this dive, you don’t know where it’s taking you, and you have this understanding. I think of that a lot, “My kids are not going to get to enjoy this world the way we have.” You’re working your day job if you will because that’s what pays the bills. You have a family. How do you find the extra bandwidth? You’re already busy as it is. To look at it realistically, this is going to take several years to layer in this body of work, to understand the subject matter, to shoot them correctly, to even have the opportunity. Is it the inspiration that gives you the extra lane to do it? Also, what’s the conversation with your partner because it’s dangerous?
Dangerous and expensive. In my day job, I’m shooting all the Marvel movies and everything was financing my passion project. I could have a much bigger home right now. I could have a couple more cars and all that material stuff that we spend that money on. I chose to do this. I have an amazing partner. Kimberly has been supportive since day one. She has work beliefs. It’s like, “It’s okay. You can swim with great white sharks but no motorcycles.” I’m not allowed to ride on a motorcycle but I can swim out of the cage with great white sharks. You can do the math.
Did she ever say, “This is an interesting turn. Now that we have children, you’re going to be out in the open ocean swimming with great whites.” Does she think, “I trust Michael. I know him.”
It was more of the latter. Intuitively, she also knew that she wasn’t going to stop me. Why try? Be supportive. My assistants weren’t certified. I was like, “Jump in with me.” It’s like when you go into war, your sergeant runs first in. These great leaders in battle were the ones that led. The big kings were the first ones on the horse going into battle. They’re not sending their troops off to be slaughtered but they’re leading their men in. Those are the men that will lay down their lives. Those are usually the ones that won the battle. That’s why we know about them. They don’t write stories about the losers.
You go from that first dive and then do you start mapping out? Do you only want to shoot great whites? Do you have a theme or is it just sharks?
It was sharks and it grew. I had a goal that I wanted to do a Taschen book. That was always a big desire of mine.
All their books are beautiful.
That was the goal. On that trip in the Galápagos, I was like, “The limited edition is going to come in a cage.” From day one, I had it visualized. I’m a big believer in visualizing what you want to do or what you want to create and then you go and take the steps to do it. If you don’t see it, you don’t know what you’re wanting to create or build. People talk about dream boards and stuff like that. To me, it’s important that I need to see it and then I go manifest it.
There are many layers to this. I started out on this trip to do this expedition and to shoot sharks, raise awareness, and raise money. To do something that has never been done before was always a big thing for me too, shoot these animals in a way they’ve never have seen before and show people our planet. There’s this parallel journey that’s happening because I’m dealing with my own PTSD, trauma, addiction, and all these other things. These sharks were such a great metaphor and a big impact or imprint on my body, my energy, facing death but not dying, and those types of things. It was to look back and see the journey.
People would ask me for years. I didn’t know why I was necessarily doing it and what drew me to it so much. People would say, “You’re an adrenaline junkie.” It came up many times. I’m sure your husband has heard it, “Why do you surf 100-foot waves? For the adrenaline rush?” It’s like, “No.” When you’re there, there is a little bit of adrenaline rush. You’re in the zone, you’re in this flow, and you’re in this place where it’s on adrenaline and it’s present.
[bctt tweet=”Great white sharks put us in our place because we realize that they are above us. When you get in the ocean, they own it. We don’t own it. That’s hard for us humans to swallow.”]
It hit me years ago. I was out of the cage and people have been asking me that. It was like, “This is why I do it because I’m in the moment.” I’m not in my head on the next job or how am I paying the rent. It was right here and right now. You have to be. I was like, “I want this on land. I want to have small sharks to get this.”
From what I’ve seen and partnering with someone who’s like that, it makes sense. For certain people, in a way, they get in these situations where it’s like, “This makes sense.” The world that we live in is confusing. It’s like, “Why is that person mad at me? They don’t even know me.” Whatever the things are that are going on here.
Stephen said that he interviewed Laird years ago and Laird said, “The thing about flow is it is and you are.” Stephen was like, “I don’t know what that means.” Scientifically, what he found out was that the flow state is the only thing in life that’s always the same. When you’re in it, it’s the same. Everything else in life is different. Everything is changing.
With flow, it’s always the same. I thought that was maybe an interesting thing. When people are seeking a North Star or something that seems fair, honest, or predictable, which could even be unpredictable, you’re seeking those moments that are all-encompassing. When you go there, you have to be completely present and everything else fades away.
When you said that quote that your husband said, I got it right away. I get what he was saying. You have to be in that flow or have been there to understand it. It makes total sense. It is always there. We have this thing called our brain plus our ego-ism or whatever it is. There are a lot of names for it. We have a committee going on that keeps us from being in that state on a daily basis. When I said I want this experience, I don’t want to have to swim with sharks to get it. There is a way of obtaining it and it’s mindfulness. It’s a different type of work. I’ve gotten to that place and maybe even better sometimes with my meditations and alternative ways of getting to that flow state.
Let’s talk about that a little because you’ve incorporated some practices. First, what do you think are the number one things you were trying to unwind, PTSD, and things like that? What were the things that you needed to unwind or have continued to work on unwinding to get liberated from?
People have tried to explain this to me but never in the way he did, Tony Robbins. Have you ever met Tony?
I have never met him but I know who he is. Did he scare you into the truth or something?
I cold-called him and he spent a lot of time with me.
It’s because his name kept coming up.
The universe was telling it to you.
I asked a doctor, a friend of mine who is friends with him, “Can you give me Tony’s number?” This is what I do. I cold-called Tony and I was like, “My name is Michael Muller.” He called me back. I said, “I’m a Rubik’s cube. You need new photos.” He appreciated that because I looked up some photos online. I was like, “Tony Robbins, you need to have this and you’re done.” He appreciated that. We became pretty close pals. I couldn’t believe he was giving me so much fun for free.
I don’t know what he makes but I imagine what he charges and people spend what they spend to go to his events. Here’s this guy giving me these things. He had a baby at home and he spent 1.5 hours with me on the phone. First, he breaks me down because I had to re-listen to it. I’ve been doing some hypnotherapy.
From my paperwork that he filled out, he was like, “You talk too much. You need to listen more than you talk.” I listened to me and Tony, I’m like, “Shut up. Listen.” We have a lot of similarities, his upbringing and mine. The one main thing that Tony said is, “You’ve been looking for love your entire life. You want to connect. You want to love and be loved. You want to adore and be adored.” I’m like, “That’s true. That’s all I’ve been looking for.”
I can only speak from my experience. Do you know that your parents loved you but that it wasn’t a language you couldn’t hear or receive?
100%. They loved me with all their being and loved me with the tools that they had at their disposal. That’s where it gets to. I re-listened to it and I was like, “Whoa.” It was the key to the kingdom. I have done a lot of work over the last twenty years. I looked at this and I’m like, “I can do another twenty years of work. If I don’t change these, it’s all for naught.”
It was the negative core beliefs that I have about myself, “Michael, if you love or if you open yourself up, you’re going to get abandoned and hurt.” “You’re not good enough.” I made a list of my core negative beliefs. He gave me a system on how to deal with these and write down the BS and then get it out bringing physicality to it. The truth is that first statement. I need to get your love, my wife’s love, and my mom’s love. I need to get this love that I’m like, “Look at me. Do you remember, ‘Attaboy?’”
The truth is I need to give love. Love needs to come from Michael. I get it from the universe, from God, or whatever you want to call it. I have it to give because I cannot get love from any of you. You get love by giving love. If I’m constantly giving them, I’ll continue to get love from you or anyone else. You can’t abandon me. You can’t hurt me. The only way to do that is if you’re looking to get it and you can’t get it. You’ve got to give it. To me, that was profound. I was like “That’s the self-love that you hear about.” People talk about, “You need to have self-love.” It’s true. Michael needs to start loving Michael and constantly giving it.
When I was a younger female, I used to think I’m interested in finding someone to be excited about loving. I seldom thought about finding someone to love me because I don’t know what it was. There was something about that that made me think that would make me be my best self. Anytime I was in a dynamic where the person loved me but I wasn’t as excited about them, I didn’t operate on my best side and therefore, I didn’t like myself as much.
When I was with somebody that I was excited about and I was bringing my best self to the table, all of a sudden, I felt more proud of myself too. There’s something interesting about giving love even if somebody shuns it. Let’s say it’s even to one of your kids and they’re like, “Get away from me. You’re annoying.” Whatever they do, you’re like, “It’s okay. I’m showing up. I’m giving love. I’m here.” It’s an interesting thing because it’s counterintuitive. It’s scary.
It’s like giving money away or donating because you think that it’s yours, “I’m holding it. It’s mine.” It’s not. It’s here to flow through. Talk about flow, once you embrace that flow state with your financial, you’re not controlled by money anymore. All of a sudden more keeps coming in because you’re letting it flow out. It’s a universal law, give and it comes in tenfold. It’s true.
Growing up with certain beliefs, whether they talk about scarcity mentality or abundance, those are difficult things because they show up and they creep up in interesting ways. One time I talked to somebody who’s a money manager. For example, let’s say something gives you great pleasure. You wouldn’t say, “Normally, I wouldn’t spend that much money on that but it gives me so much pleasure that it’s worth it.”
It’s trying to undo some of those beliefs that you have when you’re young, it’s hard and it’s interesting where it shows up. He said that for him, it was being able to go to the restaurant and order the appetizer and the meal because they grew up broke. It was like, “You’re going crazy.” It’s a great way to look at things because it shows up in love and in money big time, both places.
It shows up in everything. It’s a belief. Like sharks, that’s another great analogy for me. I faced a belief that was real in my head that this was Jaws and it was going to kill me. I faced it and the belief changed, my life changed, and all these other doors opened. My whole world changed because of facing that one belief. I’m like, “If I can do it with sharks, I can do it with anything.”
Our brain is like a computer. Do you want to run on MS-DOS 9.0? Do you want to be brand new or state-of-the-art? “Tomorrow is an empty chapter of your life. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” All of those are silly statements but they’re true but it does take work. You can’t think of a new belief. You can’t be like, “No, I don’t believe that anymore. I have abundance and forever.” It takes pen to paper, it takes work and mantras, or whatever you want to call it. It takes effort. We live in a society where we want everything now and we want it quick and we don’t want to do the effort. We want the rewards, “I want the benefits.” How many people read these books that say, “Here are five practices.” “Did you do the practice?” “No.”
“I know what they are.”
Osmosis, it’s like, “No.” It takes work. When you do the work and you get the rewards, your life changes. It’s amazing. It’s the best work. It’s the most rewarding work I’ve done in my life. Forget the photos. If I’m on my deathbed or if I have time to reflect, I’m not going to be like, “Let me think about the movie posters or the Nike ad I shot.” I’m going to be like, “Did you evolve?” When I go, I want them to be like, “Attaboy. You’re going to go into the next world. You don’t have to come back to do this again because you’ve dealt with your female issues and those issues.”
What you’re saying is important and a golden rule for life, which is we can have all the information but if we don’t have a practice in place, it doesn’t mean a perfect practice, it means a real practice that you are incorporating each day. That’s in everything. That’s in brushing your teeth, to a kindness practice, to a physical fitness practice, to all of those things. That’s one of the golden rules of life. Most of us have a lot of the information, we just haven’t figured it out or haven’t dedicated ourselves to the practice.
You start to aggressively parallel path both things. You’re doing your passion, the art project for the shark book, sharks, you’re working, you’re being a dad, and you’re being a husband. Did you have anything that revolutionized the shooting during that time be it the light or the cameras you were able to use for your book project? Was there anything that also made any of that easier? What I’m saying is through that process, you had to learn some secrets and tricks to make it all better for you. It’s through mistakes or being like, “This could be better.” How did you guys work that out because you’re on the fly?
You’re listening to things like being a dad and doing your commercial work. I would go to a city and do the shoot all day, twelve-hour day, and then go back to the hotel and grab those shark posters and go at night and put trip lists when my assistants were going to sleep or whatever. The difference between me and someone else is that I’m willing to then go that extra mile to get it done because I’m like, “I’m not going to be here again. I’m in Stockholm and I’m going to put some great whites up around that smiling, big shark poster.”
With that light.
I’ve been working on a horse project for eight years. I didn’t know anything about horses. I learned as I went. I show up. That’s how I’ve approached everything, my photography, virtual reality. All of it is to show up and let people that are smarter than I teach me that have done the path. I learned from mentors to be open-minded and be childlike because there’s always something new to learn. Embrace the unexpected.
If you want to talk about that flow state, that’s about being present for whatever is coming, good, bad, and different. We like to label things good and bad, this and that. No. Be present for life because it’s going to be exciting however you want to label it if you’re in that place. If you’re close-minded, you’re like, “I’ve got to do it because I’m going to lose my job.” What type of existence is that? I don’t know.
I’m sure you have many but share an experience where you’re in the moment and there’s a great white. Maybe this great white is a little more curious or a little more interested in you than you’ve experienced. I don’t care who it is. I would imagine that’s beyond terrifying. You’re there and you know, “I have to face off. That’s what I have to do.” Tell me about that experience.
There’s only one, honestly.
Does this shark have a name?
It probably does but I don’t remember. All the sharks in Guadalupe have names because great whites have markings on them, they’re like fingerprints. In all 60-some odd one expeditions, I’ve spent thousands of hours underwater. There’s only one time that I can think of and that was this trip. It was Klara’s first dive trip. Klara is my oldest daughter. She’s in the cage.
It was during an El Niño year so the water was warm so the sharks weren’t coming up to the surface. We were bringing them up to the 30-foot cage that’s 30-feet beneath the boat. I’ve got a bunch of influencer friends on this boat trip that has taken an eighteen-hour boat ride and, at this point, hasn’t seen sharks because they’re down 30-foot. I’ve got Klara and I’ve got her little buddy from school.
What’s that conversation like with those parents?
Do you know Kelly Wearstler and Brad?
It’s their son, Klara, and Shaun White’s dad on top of the cage with a GoPro. We got this male shark, this boy, who’s fifteen-foot. They all have different personalities. The younger boys are pumped with testosterone. We’ve got this boy that came up and my mentor was riding it and it’s circling us. This is the first time my daughter has come down the cage and I said to her that I wasn’t going to bring her down when I was going out of the cage. She’s like, “I’m fine.” I’m like, “No matter what you see, don’t be scared. Don’t be scared even if you see a fifteen-foot great white that’s about to eat your dad’s head off.”
[bctt tweet=”Show up and let people that are smarter than you, and have done the path, teach you.”]
This boy shark comes around and we have this all on his dad’s GoPro, he filmed it all. The sharks were coming by and it turned right at me. Here I am and I lower my camera. I have a mentor. He’s the sharp guy, the guru. I moved my head forward and leaned into it, which challenged the shark. The shark is coming at me but it looks like it’s going off to the side, it’s going to go by me. Klara is ten feet behind me in the cage watching all of this. The head goes like this and right when the head starts doing this, you see me giving it a little tap by its gills and the thing takes off and it’s gone. One thing is they don’t get touched. Nothing goes up and touches a great white. The minute you touch a great white, it’s like, “Whoa.”
Are the gills sensitive?
With a shark, you hit it in the nose. You’ve heard that, right?
I’ve heard it. I never believed that.
This is what happens after you hit it in the nose.
The mouth comes.
It was on the right side of the face and I gave it a little love tap and it was gone. It’s illegal to be out of the cage and we weren’t permitted at this time. The boat showed up two minutes later with all the park rangers with the cameras out and they caught us out of the cage without a shark. The fine was a lot of money. Had that shark been in there, it would have been crazy. That was the one that’s in my book, it’s the fourth photo. You’ll see little Klara in there and this big shark. My mentor’s got nothing in his hands. He’s doing this with the shark going by. It was what it was. That was the only time that I’ve had a shark that’s aggressive at me.
A shark being aggressive is like, “What’s up?”
It was the only time I’ve ever had to physically exert.
By the way, when you go surfing, do you still think about the sharks below? What’s the reframe for you?
I have the mojo, the juju like your husband, the vibe. I’ll be out here and it’s cold or whatever and I feel the shark.
Is it time to go in?
No. That’s an option. I don’t go in. What I do is I do the odds. I’m like, “Michael, you are more likely to win the SuperLotto twice than whatever you’re feeling right now acting on you. It’s not going to come and bite you.” That’s what I usually do and it goes away. The statistics are you’re more likely to win the SuperLotto twice. When you’re on the surface, it’s a vulnerable place. When you’re under and if you have a mask on and you have good visibility, you have an opportunity to do something about it. They’re ambush predators.
Sometimes when you’re shooting, if you’re a little bit lower, it’s possibly a better place to be than being when you’re up at the surface because of this.
If you’re a surfer, I’m sure you’ve seen on TV where you look like a seal. When you’re on the surface, if your head is above the water, you can’t see what’s coming. By the time you ever do see it, it’s too late. They’re coming at you 25 miles an hour. They are ambush predators, not Tiger sharks, not bull sharks, just Great whites because they have the girth and speed. They knock their prey. They hit it and stun it and then they come back and finish them off. That’s what they do with seals. That’s what they try to do with us.
When we’re out of the cage, our heads are on the swivels. You’ll see the video footage and it’s like this. There’s a 15-foot, 18-foot shark right where your cupboards are. Once we have eye contact, that shark is not going to turn and come at me. Eventually, I’m going to look down and then I’m going to see one coming at me and the tail is going, “Whoosh.” It’s coming 25 miles an hour right up to me. The shark is coming up and then I turn head-on and swim towards it. The shark is smart. Nothing swims towards it. It’s like, “I don’t like you.”
That’s something not natural for me.
It banks off and does a 180. Doing that for the first time or being told to do that goes against everything.
What’s great about those moments is you know, in a way, the only choice you have is the choice. It’s not like you think, “I can get away.” What’s great about that is those moments in life where you have no choice but to do the right thing because there’s so much pressure and there’s no other option. That’s an incredible moment.
It’s a game-changing moment.
There’s only one right choice. We have how many experiences like that in life, 2, 3, 1? Who knows? It’s like, “This goes against everything and it’s the only thing I can do.” It overrides everything.
The payoff is that I’m still here and I’ve done it hundreds of times.
Bull shark, hammerhead, and tiger. Tigers are a little bit aggressive, aren’t they?
Bull sharks and tiger sharks do the most damage around the world mostly because bull sharks lay their young up in the river mouth, freshwater. They go up the river, they lay, and then they come back down the ocean. Where the ocean and river meet, people are wading in that water that’s murky. The sharks are coming down. They test stuff with their mouth, “What is that? It’s a calf.” That one bite can do a lot of damage.
Tiger sharks are like pit bulls. You’ll find license plates in their stomachs, tires, front dashes of cars. They eat everything and they have hacksaw teeth. They’re the sharks that rip into turtle shells. They can cut a turtle shell in half. In Hawaii, there are a lot of tiger sharks. They’ve come up and they see things. When we’re out trying to photograph tiger sharks at Tiger Beach, we have to put breadcrumbs to come to us.
They don’t want to worry.
If you’re on the surface swimming and the shark comes up, it’s a different ballgame. Bull sharks and tiger sharks do the most damage as far as attacks and bites on young people. For the most part, we’re not on their menu.
We’re not good eating.
We’re skin and bones. They want blubber.
Besides facing your fear and having that opportunity, what are some of the powerful things that have made you different? How have you come out of this process different?
Being more gentle with myself. Being a little more forgiving and not being too hard on myself, not holding myself up to such, like, “Everything has to be brightened.” It’s okay to have a bad day. It’s okay to feel like crap. I know that’s a big thing. That’s where I’m in, learning that and practicing that and being okay, like, “I’m feeling this and that’s okay.” Don’t try to change it, “I don’t like the way I’m feeling. Let’s change it.” You would call that escapism because you’re not wanting to deal with it.
Would you let it pass through now? What do you do?
You acknowledge it, first of all. You got to be aware of it. Being aware is the self-awareness of knowing what’s triggering it and what’s happening. Maybe I’m hungry. That’s one. You and your husband’s ice and heat thing was such a great pivotal thing in my life because I’ve had a lot of physical challenges that I’ve dealt with, which are tied to emotional stuff that I had heard for years, “Back pains are tied to emotions.” I’m like, “Yeah, right. You don’t live with this.” Once you start doing a lot of the emotional workouts, it’s amazing how much of that back pain gets relieved.
Knowing you, it seems like that has been something that you’ve put more on the back burner, which is taking good care of yourself. In the last few years, you’ve done better about bringing that to the forefront. Did you get in so much discomfort that you had no choice? Did you finally go you, “I’m busy. I’m traveling. I’m on planes all the time. I have to figure out this way to balance this out.” You’re physically hard on yourself.
It takes getting older and hitting your 50s. Like they say, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. I can’t live like this. This isn’t sustainable.” Also, finding out stuff about myself. I have a weird diagnosis because I have bipolar 2 without depression. It’s hard to have bipolar 2 without depressions. I don’t get those deep depressions. I have the mania.
I remember calling Andrew Huberman who you know and is a dear friend of mine who knows me. I did DSM-5 for the first time, which is ADHD and all those things. I was like, “That’s me, runs at a ten, always positive.” He’s like, “Michael, you don’t run at ten. You run at eleven.” I’m like, “Great. I want to go to a nine.” I tried the medication route. When the mood stabilizer kicked in, it’s the worst.
Is it apathy? What happens there? People get indifferent about everything with the mood stabilizers.
I was not happy and not sad. This fire that I have had for life turned into a BIC lighter. I didn’t have that and I was like, “No way. I’m not doing this.” I tried another form and another type of medication. It’s like being aware, “That’s what this is.” I’m in a manic place. I’m experiencing this. You need to do some more work about it like grounding work, meditation, slow down, take better care yourself, or whatever it may be. I’ve lived with it for fifteen years without medication. At least now I can have some more tools to deal with it and know what it is. That’s that self-discovery thing of learning what makes Michael tick?
Andrew Huberman said that he learned a valuable lesson from you. You’ve seen him. He was always working quite a bit. It feels like he’s working even more now. He’s doing public education if you will. He said that he made some comment on the side of his head, “I’m busy. Work is so much.” He said that you said something to him that changed the way he thought about it forever, which was that it was such a gift to be busy, to have options, have opportunities, and never to say that.
He says that anytime he gets where he’s almost moving to that place, like, “I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. I’m too busy. I have too much work.” He says that he hears you and that it’s the gift. That’s something you naturally have that is obvious. I’ve never heard you say, “I’m busy.” That’s a feeling of why you attack everything so much because it’s like, “Here’s another opportunity. Here’s another chance. Here’s another gift to do something cool or important to me.” Even telling stories about the shark. How many years did it take for you to compile the images you needed to do your book?
I remember going to Benedict with maybe 10 or 11 years into it. At the time, I was like, “It was going to be a great white book because great whites are the coolest sharks.” He was like, “How many species are there?” I’m like, “There are 550.” He said, “How many cool sharks are there?” I’m like, “There are 20, 30.” “Go shoot those.” I’m like, “Okay. I’m going to need 2 or 3 more years and I’ll go out and shoot those.” When I started my first book, I knew it was going to be an Arabian and then I’m like, “He’s going to be twenty pages in and he’ll be, ‘This is the same horse. I thought it was a horse book.’” I broaden it out to horses. I learned my lesson. It was a good thirteen-year project. The book from us starting to talk to being on the shelves was four years.
[bctt tweet=”If you don’t have a story to engage people, they’re going to be bored in a minute or two.”]
It’s glorious. It’s a beautiful piece of art. Do you ever relook at it? It must an amazing bookmark on times and dives and certain moments.
When I go through my archives, even my commercial work, I’m like, “I shot a lot.” I even forget half the shoots I’ve done and I’m like, “I remember that.” It popped into my mind and this is one of the big mantras that I live by, which is to change your perception and change your beliefs. We’ve been talking about that and it seems to be a thing. Change your perception was the hashtag me and my shark guys used, #ChangeYourPerception. My goal was to change your perception of sharks. I realized that the book didn’t do that and the photos didn’t do it. You might say those are beautiful photographs but it didn’t change your thinking. You’re still scared of sharks.
Is that what led to the VR project?
That’s what led to it. The TV doesn’t change your perception. My wife, who did the eighteen-hour boat ride, cried, “I can’t believe how irresponsible. I’m going to die. It’s not going to be you. It’s going to be me. Our kids are going to be without parents.” We’re in our little cabin on the boat and I’m like, “It’s going to be fine.” She went down in the second dive and it was out of the cage. She’s not swimming with fins on but standing on top of the cage. She’s ready to jump on the back of the shark and grab the dorsal fin and swim off.
She changed her perception.
I saw that with everyone I brought out on the boat. When you got there and you saw the sharks, that’s when the perception change. I’m like, “I can’t bring everyone on.” One viewer came along and that was in LAX all the way to Antigua. I’m like, “I’m bringing you with me on the dive. That might work.” I put my horse project on hold. At that point, I was done with sharks.
You’ve worked on this for a minute. The technology finally caught up to be able to do justice to the project.
I feel like I’m still a couple of years too early. VR hasn’t picked up the way I think it will be. At some point in the future when Apple comes out with thin, light goggles, or there are glasses. Remember the Oakley Blades?
Imagine VR screens that thin and you can put it on and be like that, which will happen eventually. People are going to shop and do their things with avatars and all that good stuff. I have all this IP that I feel like I’m a few years too early. When people watch it, they’re like, “That’s what VR was made for. That was cool.” It’s experiential. I realized also by watching other people’s VR, you can’t just put eye candy up even if it’s the coolest eye candy possible. If you don’t have a story to engage people, they’re going to be bored in a minute or two. One of my closest friends is an actor. He’s like, “Keep it personal. Tell them about your journey.” I did that throughout the series. It’s exciting to bring out and put out in a way because not everyone has had a headset.
Explain how exactly this all works.
It was like, “I want to do VR.” I got to make a proof of concept so I got to go out and shoot this because it’s going to be cool but I got to go do it to raise any type of money. I went down and I met Andrew Huberman. I got back from Antigua and he said, “They all want to meet you, the production company.” I’m like, “Okay, great. Let’s start setting it up.”
Two days later, Huberman called me out of the blue and was like, “We’re interested in your shark work. Were you scared of sharks? Now you swim without a cage?” I’m like, “Yeah.” He’s like, “What you’ve done in the neurology space is like the free climbing. You’ve rewired your brain and we want to bring you up and study with you because we want to use VR technology to help people with PTSD and anxiety.” I’m like, “Andrew, we’re starting a VR project right now. I have PTSD. He’s like, “No way.”
We ended up partnering and I brought five of the scientists out and they let me go out of the cage and film it. The only way to shoot at that time was with six GoPros. My takeaway
going back is GoPros are going to make a whole new camera system that doesn’t exist because that’s not how I’m making this. I need to raise millions of dollars in the next couple of months or I have to wait for a whole another year because it’s animals and they’re migratory. I got back and cut it together and I put it on. I’m like, “This is amazing. People with their checkbooks are going to whip out because this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” No one was putting money into VR like that, especially into video content.
If it was a game somehow.
I understand because the VR that people were putting out there, they’re putting a camera on a stick. You’ve seen enough of that crap and you’re like, “This sucks.” My chiropractor is another life-changer. He’s been a good spiritual and physical guide to me. He has my book in his office and a client said that he wants me. I went down and showed him to VR. He’s in the energy business. He partnered up with me financially.
We went out and spent the next year and a half crisscrossing the planet and reshooting everything with fourteen cameras. I met these guys that made a stereoscopic. It was 120-pound housing and we’re pushing that around. It was a dream to shoot. It’s like the Holy Grail of diving. We’re releasing it in a way that it’s not just for headsets. You can watch it on your phone so you can look around. Everyone can see it. People with kids put it on and they can watch where they’re on a plane. That’s almost two hours of content.
You do narrate it and it’s your journey. If people watch this and they think, “I would like to make a difference. I live in Ohio. I’m not connected to the ocean but I want to help protect these animals.” Is there a group that you like the way that they’re approaching and protecting sharks or other sea creatures? You also even hear the politics and the environmental space. Is there a group that you are connected with?
There are a few of them. For this project, I partnered with WildAid and Parley for the Oceans. WildAid champions animal rights all around the world. It’s not just sharks but they do ivory, rhinos, you name it. They are a big presence in China and here. If you go to LAX, the airport, you’ll see their billboards are up everywhere about trafficking animals. Parley TV is focused on the plastic issue, alternatives, and getting companies to think outside the box and commit to less plastic or plastic-free. There’s Sea Shepherd, Oceana, and a bunch of other organizations out there that are great. Those are a few I partnered with for this.
Being in Ohio or some state that’s landlocked, you still have a lot of opportunities to help impact the ocean because of the choices of stuff you buy there or what you can do with your computer these days, lobbying, and getting a group together. Also, getting petitions together to call your senators and your representatives and say, “Vote on this shark finning bill.” There are ways that you can help. Don’t let where your geographics keep you from doing something.
All these years ago, you were thinking about your girls and that they may not get to experience the world this way. Do you feel more hopeful? Does it feel the same? How is your perspective that you’ve been entrenched in this in a real way for many years? How has that impacted your perspective?
Cousteau planted that seed in me, watching the stuff on TV, and being like, “That exists? That’s out there?” Kids are jacked into technology these days and they’re not going out to nature as we did as kids. I’m bringing nature to them through electronics. I’m hopeful for these kids. At least from my experience, all I have is mine with my kids.
My daughters and their friends who I watch and listened to are conscious and pissed at us and the planet they’re inheriting. They’re active. They have this little device in their hands that allows them to connect to other kids throughout the world in ways we couldn’t have. I hope that they are going to solve and deal with a lot of the issues that we are handing off and dropping in their laps. don’t think they have a choice. At this point, they have to deal with it.
It’s not going away and it’s not going to solve itself. If anything, it’s becoming more and more clear. It’s all hands on deck whether it’s you shooting and us being reminded, whether it’s people trying to take care of themselves, whether it’s dealing with plastics, pollution, air quality, or whatever. It’s important that people are reminded. You’re doing it the way you are inspired to do it and have access to do it. That could be different than the way someone else does it. This is a separate side of your personality but you’re creative. I was talking to our mutual friend, Eli Roth, who also has a shark movie that’s on Discovery Plus.
He drills down on the numbers and what’s happening. I appreciate the fact that he made this movie. We were talking about you. The idea of being a creative, there’s going to be people reading this who’ll think, “I would like to pursue that type of career path.” It is scary. It’s unknown. Even when you’re crushing it, you’re a freelancer. You said something about you manifesting it. You saw the shark book with Taschen. You have the horse book. What is it in you that kept you going even when it’s unknown or that you can have a level of success and then it gives a dryer for a little bit? The markets change or whatever and then you have to find your new place in that. How have you done that?
Like Darwin says, “Evolve or die.” It’s that simple. You have two choices, you evolve and deal with what’s been presented to you with the changing technologies, changing workplace. You either adapt to it or you get weeded out to the sides. I’ve seen it happen at least in my profession for people at the top or people at the bottom. If you’re in the middle, you’re gone.
Going back to being childlike, open-minded, and teachable, to me, that’s exciting. That’s what’s exciting in life. It’s like, “What can I learn today? I want to do something new that I’ve never done before.” With COVID, my work went to zero. I can sit back and get all depressed and wonder or I can hop in my car and load the girls up and be like, “Let’s go work on the horse book. Let’s go cruising around the country in this SUV and go shoot horses. This is an amazing opportunity. Let’s go do some work in words, Michael.” When else are you going to get the time?
For how long, I’ve been like, “It would be great to have a month off and work on me.” “Here’s a year off. Go work on yourself.” That’s how I approach life. There are some analogies on how I’ve dealt with this. I’m here once, at least from what I know. Here’s my experience and people are like, “He works so much. Do you rest?” My motto has always been, “I’ll rest when I’m dead.” There is a part of me that’s like, “Maybe it’s my adrenals and this isn’t sustainable but I’d rather have 60 years going full tilt and doing 100% than have 80 or 90 at 70% where I’m mediocre.”
Muller, maybe you’re finding new ways to have the 100%. It’s both. It’s not at the cost of yourself. You’re doing this incredible work and the output but also you’re being beaten up in the process. It’s a different kind of 100%.
It’s balance. That’s where the dance school who knows, who helped nurture my body back, your ice and heat and these things. It’s not just your physical but learning how to control your mind. When you’re in that ice, you have two options, breathe or jump out because your mind is yelling at you badly to get out. It’s the same thing that happens when the phone doesn’t ring, your brain freaks out because it’s like, “It’s over.”
“You’re never going to work again. They’re not going to buy your pictures.”
“They don’t love you. They found out the truth. They know. You’re not a good photographer.”
I always go to this one, “Do I have stuff to sell? It’s going to be okay.”
“You rented for ten years. You can rent again. You can sell the house.”
You probably have more of this because you’ve been with sharks but someone who’s been in waves and does that, Mother Nature. Laird is like, “It’s all going to be okay and it is okay.” I’m like, “Yeah.”
I get the same thing, “Shut up. I don’t want to hear your advice.” I’m like, “It’s the same advice. Your word is your wand.”
Michael Muller, people can find your books with Taschen. If they want the VR project, what are the ways that they can experience it and how can they get it?
There’s going to be an app and it would be called Into the Now that you’ll download for your phone, for your mobile. It’s the same with your headsets. We’re dealing with the Apple App Store and stuff that’s out of my control. The project was supposed to have been released. Into the Now will come out and you’ll see it. Go to my Instagram, which is @MichaelMuller7. People will be posting it and there’ll be stuff out. It’ll be Into the Now. You’ll be able to see it on your headsets and then you’ll be able to watch it on your phone. The phone is cool. You’ll be walking through the airport and you’ll see someone holding up her phone and you’ll be like, “What is that?”
It’s extraordinary too. Laird has been in the sea as much as anyone and he came back profoundly impacted and surprised by being under with the sharks.
I tried to get your husband to come out for a decade. It was always the same time that he was out hunting the big waves. When it came time, I’m like, “Where are you going this year?” He’s like, “I’m not.” I’m like, “You can go on the shark trip.” He’s like, “I could.” I saw him slowly trying to retreat from the green to go. Thank God for your daughter because she’s like, “He’s going. I’m making him go on this trip.” I’m like, “Good.”
Our children make us do things. You have three daughters and a set of twins. That’s pretty amazing.
Eli Roth narrates one of the episodes. Our daughters and your husband narrate. I was like, “I’m sick of hearing my own voice. It’s nice hearing from other people’s experiences, the Great White trip, which was cool. It was such a pleasure to have your husband out there. He spends more time than anyone under and on the ocean. He’s like, “As much as anyone.” He’s out there somewhere.
I tried to give him a haircut and didn’t happen. Michael, I appreciate the work you do. For people reading, we joke that your nickname is Silverback. The intensity is beautiful to watch and we appreciate you.
Thank you. I appreciate you having me on.
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- Michael Muller
- Ashes and Snow
- Parley for the Oceans
- Sea Shepherd
- Into the Now
- XPT Ice & Heat
About Michael Muller
Michael Muller is best known for being a Photographer who has been renowned shooting celebrity portraits and underwater candids of sharks. He began his career in photography with it as a hobby.
His early high-profile clients were professional snowboarders. His celebrity portraits have been featured on the covers of Vanity Fair, Harpers Bazaar, Esquire, and Rolling Stone magazines. He has also worked as a prolific photographer for the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s individual movie posters.