ROBERTO OCHOA: AN EVOLUTION OF MARINE DOCUMENTARY
Here I am on a Thursday morning, ticking things off my to-do list. Trying my best to best procrastination. Arrange an interview with Roberto Ochoa. I think about putting it off, but then I decide against it. I think a part of me thought he just wouldn’t have the time. However, I am excited about the opportunity to meet him so I push through and make the call.
Arranging an interview actually turned out to be surprisingly easy and much quicker than anticipated. He happened to be in Roatan watching the Caribbean Cup. I gathered my notepad and pens and rushed out the door to catch a taxi to the next island community. As promised, Roberto was in the lobby of his hotel at precisely 11:00 a.m.—slightly an hour after I contacted him. That’s efficiency.
Roberto Ochoa is a wildlife videographer and non-profit documentary filmmaker from Ecuador who focuses on marine conservation. Because of his extensive knowledge of the coastal waters in Ecuador, he’s been able to take advantage of some amazing opportunities.
As it turns out, the man behind the documentaries is also the owner of one of the largest security agencies in Ecuador. Perhaps this explains the efficiency? He was very to the point . It was a very precise interview. I knew if I wanted anything specific out of him I was going to have to ask, and so I did…
So how did a guy with a successful security company in Ecuador become known globally for his documentaries? I’m glad you asked!
It all started with a desire to discover, a passion to share and a tiny camera called a GoPro.
“A lot of people ask me how do I approach marine life? How can I get so close with sharks? How can I get so close to nature? It’s very easy, you know…people think it’s very hard to do all this. Actually it started with a single GoPro.”
Six years ago he went out to explore an area after getting tipped off by some local fisherman about a manta ray hotspot. Armed with a scuba rig and a GoPro, he set out to explore. He did indeed find the area with mantas, which is now a very popular dive site. Most importantly, he managed to get some great footage.
He posted the video, the mini-documentary if you will, to YouTube and Facebook. From there the gravity of social media took over. It became viral. Who doesn’t like watching footage of manta rays? The video even found its way on Good Morning America, a popular North American talk show.
From there he started investing more in equipment and acquired sponsorship from GoPro and Cressi. Not at all a bad start for a creative hobbyist with a very serious business to run.
After establishing a reputation as a videographer, he filmed 24 episodes for a television series called Blue Planet Ecuador. This brought him attention from the big leagues and soon enough National Geographic approached him about doing his first documentary in 2015 in the Galapagos aimed at protecting sharks.
Because of this venture, the government segmented an additional 35,000 square kilometers of water as a protected zone.
During the filming of the first documentary, Roberto found it difficult to film in traditional scuba equipment because of the iconic bubbles. While the bubbles can be entertaining to divers, some marine creatures are actually quite skittish of them. Because of this he decided to change the means of capturing footage in his second documentary: Galapagos Evolution.
He noticed that the marine life interacted with him in a much different way when he was freediving so he opted to step away from the scuba world and concentrate on breath-hold diving to explore the Galapagos.
This documentary features Pierre Cousteau, the youngest son of Jacques Cousteau. If you are unfamiliar with Jacques Cousteau, he helped invent scuba diving back in 1942. Interestingly enough, Cousteau was one of the few scuba divers on the team. He dived below the surface and observed the surroundings. When he found the marine life they were searching for he would communicate with the boat and the freedivers would enter the water for filming.
During the documentary, after seeing the amazing encounters the freedivers had with the marine life without the bubbles, Pierre Cousteau “learns how to free dive because he wanted to change his way to connect with nature.”
His main drive is to inspire people to coexist with nature “so that people can learn about marine life.” This became a recurring theme throughout the interview. Because of his desire to connect others with marine life, his documentaries have evolved as well.
This is also why he has shifted to promoting freediving rather than scuba diving. He suggests that “scuba diving is kind of expensive” whereas, “in the case of freediving, you only need a mask and fins.”
It is a means of interacting with the ocean that is much more tangible to people who cannot afford scuba diving lessons and boat charters. This is very important to him because he believes that “the more people we have in the ocean, the more people that are going to take care of it”
His main source of inspiration is watching his work become successful in influencing people around the globe.
He is now finishing his third documentary: Socorro Evolution. It’s filmed in the waters of Socorro Island off of Mexico’s Pacific coast. While he didn’t delve too much into the project, he did mention that a few repeat guests would appear, such as whales, dolphins and mantas—always crowd favorites. The documentary is slated to be released this August.