Interview with Connor Van Vuuren, stunt performer, director and one of the writers behind SICK! and Bondi Hipsters.
“What do you get when you take a hobo, add some emo, a touch of metro?” Dom (Christiaan Van Vuuren) and Adrian (Nick Boshier) are Bondi Hipsters, complete with an organic food fixation, underground clothes label and a pledge to reduce their “environmental footsie” – one can of deodorant at a time.
I spoke to Connor Van Vuuren, who along with his brother and Boshier directs and writes for the series. Bondi Hipsters is Christiaan’s brainchild. After living in Bondi for some time, and being “exposed to Bondi hipster types” he felt they were “ripe for a lampooning”. Something which Connor finds interesting as, “he does kind of have hipster tendencies – and I suppose I do too. We both prefer hipsters to lads.”
Presented as a “mockumentary”, we see Dom and Adrian at the beach, at underground clubs, at yoga, at the shops, at home, and at work at a trendy fashion outlet where they alternate between ignoring customers completely, aggressively complimenting their shoes, and interrogating them for their ‘deets’. In true hipster style they epitomise irony, discussing their commitment to the environment whilst adding to the growing pile of cigarette butts outside their window, and “eating really healthy then smashing lines off toilet seats”. There is also a surprising amount of Harry Potter references.
Dom and Adrian are definitely Bondi Hipsters – with Connor agreeing that the definition of ‘hipster’ varies depending on where they are from. “The first hipsters I saw pop up were in Melbourne. Everyone’s a hipster in Melbourne. Melbourne hipsters are a lot more literary; they’ve got all the bookstore bars [while] Bondi hipsters are pretty unique. A lot of them have quite fit bodies…[though are a bit] half arsed.” “Dom’s back-story is that he’s a Melbourne hipster who immigrated to Bondi – …[he] heard the ocean calling [which is why he] speaks with the slightly international thing going on.”
The series protagonists are “pro-anti-war”, “pro-America” and committed to manufacturing ethics, hiring only “australasians…Australian Asians…because they have small hands.” In one episode, we see one such worker (played by Glenn Chow) producing ‘W-Necks’ – “we don’t know his name, but we call him Bing Bong.” If you watch it, you’ll understand why.
When asked about how they navigate political correctness, Connor responds “you get away with a lot more online. Our characters are politically incorrect [so] you can get away with political in-correctness…because we are satirising those characters the things they say are not the things we believe.”
For a show centred around two potentially controversial characters, designed to poke fun at a relatively large sub-group of people, the writers have received no angry feedback. Which is “kind of surprising, because I would expect some” says Connor. There are no complaints from hipsters, possibly because “they don’t identify with the people we’re making fun of”. We “definitely get trolls” though, with some overly literal comments clearly missing the satirical aspect of the series.
While a web based series offers a lot of “conceptual freedom”, the “limiting factor is budget.” There are “only so many freebies you can expect your mates to do for you.” Everyone involved in Bondi Hipsters “does it for the love.” When asked what they would do differently if they had more funding Connor reponds that “paying the crew would be remarkable.” “We like to do action and like to have scale and involve more characters… it would be nice to have crowds and things like that, and more money to spend on outlandish clothing concepts and art.”
While a lot of time goes into the planning and script, around 50% of the dialogue is improvised. Connor describes Boshier as “bottomlessly creative” with his spontaneous dialogue, sometimes “[going] to some pretty dark places. Half the time you can see Christiaan choking back the laughs.” Filming happens intensively – “one solid day…can last for five to six weeks worth of episodes if the day is crammed.”
Bondi Hipsters isn’t the Van Vuuren brothers first collaboration though. In addition to working on Fully Sick, they won the 2011 Optus 180 Project after submitting a trailer for a television series they would like to film. Putting in a last minute entry, the brothers were surprised when they were announced as the winners. Following this, they were given the green light to film the pilot episode of SICK!, a program based around the time Christiaan spent in hospital quarantined for tuberculosis.
Connor explains that “basically SICK! is the way we thought we could make Christiaan’s story as interesting as possible. Because his story is a guy who is a fast moving ad-exec who then got quarantined in hospital; but you don’t want to just look at a guy quarantined in hospital for a whole series in a little room, stuck there. He went from being someone who dabbled with the computer, using Facebook marginally, to being someone who was an online celebrity; and that journey that all happened within the computer. SICK! was all about how we could make that as fascinating and interesting as we could… and the way that happened was to create this fantasy world that makes the internet into this swashbuckling alternate reality. So that’s how that whole social media side came about – because that’s really what happened. Christiaan got really involved with social media stuff when he was in there, and to make that journey really interesting, we physicalised it.”
While Bondi Hipsters came after SICK!, the brothers had previously had experience with working on a web series, which helped to stretch the budget. “I think we were able to squeeze so much out of that $180 000 because we’d done so much with nothing.” Connor’s experience as a stunt performer also helped, with a lot of stunt performers appearing for free, contributing to the episode’s grand scale, with more fight scenes and wire work; something which you “never see on Australian T.V.”
At present, SICK! is being screened on MTV, with plans to put it online within the next few weeks. While the series currently only exists as a pilot, the Van Vuuren brothers are keen to produce more episodes, with Connor stating that “either way we’re definitely going to fight hard to pursue it.” Laced with humour, depth and some pretty epic action scenes and effects, I hope they succeed. The trailer for the pilot can be seen here.
In the meantime, you’re going to be seeing a lot of the Van Vuuren brothers, with new episodes of Bondi Hipsters coming out every Thursday, and filming currently happening on an Ikea commercial they are directing.