‘It was pretty terrifying’: Christiaan Van Vuuren steps into the political arena for ‘Big Deal’

Christiaan Van Vuuren (centre) with Zali Steggall (left) and Jason Falinski (right).

By his own admission, Christiaan Van Vuuren is no political expert.

Despite this, the perspective of the Soul Mates and Bondi Hipsters comedian is central to Big Deal, a two-part ABC factual series examining Australia’s billion-dollar political lobbying industry.

As the presenter of Craig Reucassel’s directorial debut, Van Vuuren sits down with a host of prominent parliamentary and media figures, including Jason Falinski, Sam Dastyari, Scott Ryan, Kate McClymont, Andrew Leigh, Helen Haines, Jacqui Lambie, Katharine Murphy, Linda Burney, and Zali Steggall.

He told IF the distance of departure from his previous work was not lost on him.

“It was pretty terrifying,” he said.

“There is an emotional safety when you have control of an edit and you’re in character and it’s comedic.

“This is scarier because you are a bit more out there. It was challenging in that I was talking to people who know a lot about what they doing and a lot about politics, whereas I find politics quite confusing.

“I often still ask questions about above-the-line and below-the-line voting, so to go on this journey to try and understand money and politics was quite a big step.”

The idea for Big Deal originated in 2018 when, after conversations between Jungle Entertainment CEO Jason Burrows and Van Vuuren about the money and politics, the project became one of six social impact documentaries to receive funding via the Shark Island Institute Story Development and Impact Lab.

Burrows serves as an executive producer for series, alongside Jen Peedom of Stranger than Fiction, Jungle senior development executive Bridget Callow-Wright, former Shark Island Institute executive director Malinda Wink, and Madman CEO Paul Wiegard.

Rounding out the team are producer Aline Jacques and ABC manager of documentaries Stephen Oliver.

Christiaan Van Vuuren and Craig Reucassel.

Van Vuuren said he became interested in the subject of political donations after seeing how they contributed to an unfavourable perception of the government in countries such as the US.

“I have been watching the state of America for a long time just through my phone, doomscrolling through rising mistrust and the lure of conspiracy theories and outside thinking,” he said.

“Obviously a lot of that rose significantly during the Trump time and kind of culminated in the storming of the Capitol Hill. I’ve always wondered how much of the distrust comes from the fact they are very open about the way money moves around in their political system and that there are these really powerful lobby groups for the health insurance industry and the NRA.

“I didn’t realise that we were kind of following that road here and there was actually money moving around our own political system, so I just wanted to kind of understand why.”

In Reucassel, Big Deal had a director who not only carried social impact documentary experience, having presented the ABC’s War on Waste, but also knew his way around Canberra via his many years as a member of The Chaser.

Van Vuuren said he felt in “very safe hands” throughout the production, adding he had enjoyed contributing to a wider discussion.

“Craig is one of the loveliest guys in the world and is someone who has done this a million times before with War on Waste, Fight For Planet A and The Chaser,” he said.

“I think there is different degrees of all those projects in this documentary.

“Creating film and television can be quite a wasteful medium in that it can be a lot of people standing around and a lot catering with takeaway coffees.

“If you can make stuff that can kind of mean something or that can shape a conversation then I guess it is worth doing.”

Going forward, Van Vuuren is working on a feature film with his brother and frequent collaborator, Connor Van Vuuren, that is in late-stage development, and continues to write across television and film projects.

Big Deal premieres on the ABC on October 19 following its theatrical run via Madman Entertainment, with both episodes instantly available to binge on ABC iview.