Indie filmmaker Rowan Devereux turns his gaze to the trials and tribulations of Sydney’s turbulent rental market with his feature debut Evicted! A Modern Romance, with the newly unemployed Maggie (Amanda Maple-Brown) and Will (William Seun) attempting to find a new, affordable home for their makeshift family. Evicted! A Modern Romance brings a variety of comedy to the suburbs, from the absurdist micro-café experience in an alleyway, to the relatable humour of housemate quibbles.
In this interview, Rowan, Amanda, and Will talk about the making of this indie gem.
Is this a film that is informed from your own perspectives? Have you all gone through these kinds of rental struggles?
Amanda Maple-Brown: I have been pretty lucky. I haven’t had sort of the same [struggle], but so many of my friends have had this. Like [with Rowan], it did feel for a while there that it was a constant housewarming party. He would have another and I was like, “Hey, and didn’t he just have one?” It was quite entertaining, watching the constant moves. And you’ve done little films in most of the places you’ve lived in as well.
Rowan Devereaux: Probably why they made me move. (laughs) Yeah, no, there was a period of time, a few before COVID where I’d have a lease and then they’ll knock down the house or townhouse or redevelop it. So I went through three or four houses where I just kept getting moved three or four years.
How do you get settled? How do you live in a home that way?
RD: You get really good at moving. But I think the impetus for the film was during one of those moves, I went to another person’s housewarming party and I was speaking to people about my experience of having to move again and how it was a running joke. Everyone had the same story, everyone had the same kind of experience. So I kind of hit on the idea of a shared generational experience. You dance around in your twenties with these sort of found families. And then it just keeps going and going and going until you get to 30 and you realise, “Oh, I’m maybe not gonna get a house anytime soon.”
And what about you, Will?
William Suen: Yeah, definitely. I’ve been living in a share house for the last seven years. So it’s been a fantastic experience. It’s been all kinds of highs, all kinds of lows. I’ve been actually in the same place for the last seven years actually, and very much living with almost the same people too. So I don’t have the experience of having been evicted lots of different times. But at the same time, I’ve definitely had that experience of being best friends, if not being family, with the people that I’ve ended up living with for the last seven years.
AM-B: We were renting in a really lovely area in Northern Sydney called Whale Beach. We couldn’t afford to buy a house but we basically were the demolition renters. My partner has two kids. So we’d move into these old shacks and basically live there for the six months to 18 months between it being purchased by the new purchaser and the plans going through. We kind of went from one to the other.
RD: Knockdown houses, yeah. Similar to Erin who was one of our camera assistants. She had the same thing where she had this beautiful house that she got dirt cheap because the walls were covered in asbestos. And so they were waiting the twelve months before they can bring everyone to knock it down.
Will, you’ve lived with the same people for seven years and that in its way is a found family. Can you talk about that communal aspect of creating a family on film, both on screen and behind the scenes as well?
WS: So I’m an editor. I do a lot of editing and post-production work as well. And Rowan wouldn’t show me the film for the longest time because he was like, “Oh Will, you’re gonna put(?) all this feedback.” And then I finally got to watch it and I was like, “You know what, I’m going to be totally objective. I’m going to watch the film from a neutral perspective.” As soon as the movie came on, all that flew out the window, and I felt like I was watching the most expensive home movie ever made. Because it was like I was watching me, my friends, all the crew every single day for five weeks just having the most amazing time, and I just smiled through the whole thing. Objectivity right out the window.
So how do you go about creating that kind of family feel, Rowan? Is it in the script, is it in the directing?
RD: I think it’s because of the nature of the film. We were all together in these locations for a long period of time. They’re quite small locations, we filmed in locations that really suited the film. So we actually ended up spending a lot of time together. Also the nature of film is the cast is just sitting around, having fun, waiting for the rest of us to set the camera, just bonding.
AM-B: We do work sometimes. I’ve known Clare [Cavanagh], I did improv with her. Rose [Hainig], I’ve done a short film with her before, I met her through Rowan. Will I met [on] the first short film that we did with Rose. Someone was commenting on what a lovely set it was. And I was like, “Rowan and Sophie [Saville] always employ — or like they attract the loveliest people.” And they were like, “Yeah.” Because it was just such a joyful shoot. As much as I’m sure it was very stressful for Sophie with locations and people-wrangling, but there was always a lovely energy on set. And Rowan’s a very cool, calm collected director.
There are so many different sets as well. It’s got to be hard to really find unique places and not only that, but find places who are happy to let a crew come in and shoot.
RD: A lot of the houses were mine and Sophie’s friends or people we know. At the end [of the film] when you get to the credits, there’s special thanks and apologies. We used up as many favours as we could to shoot the film.
When did you shoot it?
RD: It would have been January 2021, Jan and Feb 2021. So just between those two lockdowns. I can’t believe we got away with it. After lockdown one when we came out of it and before that major we had in June, so we shot a whole feature film during COVID.
Do you pinch yourself now, knowing that you’ve done a whole feature film during COVID?
RD: I have no idea how we got away with it. It was amazing. We had no outbreaks. We just had that perfect time. We were thinking about it before COVID started but we got the perfect window because after we finished the film we went straight into lockdown. I think we did some pickups just two weeks before that. I spent the whole lockdown editing the film with my editor.
AM-B: Whom Rowan lives with, right?
RD: Whom I live with.
This is your first feature, is that right?
RD: Yes, it is.
So you’re getting thrown into the deep end?
RD: Yeah, yeah.
So what did you learn along the way?
RD: So much. It’s such an interesting change, because I’ve done a few shorts. And they do and they don’t prepare you for a feature. A short is like two, three days, you can just focus on that. With a feature, it just keeps going. It’s four weeks of constant — you can plan for the first week and then after that point, you’re kind of making it up as you go. One thing I learned was just focus on the day you’re on to try and win the day. If you win more days than you lose, you’ll make a good film.
Amanda and Will, what was it like working with Rowan on a challenging set where you’ve got a pandemic and there’s a lockdown looming and you don’t know what’s coming. How was that energy?
AM-B: In terms of timing, everyone was wearing face masks, apart from when the camera was rolling. Whilst there were those restrictions, there was no community COVID at that time.
WS: It was before vaccines as well, yeah.
AM-B: Everything was still very closed, and you were walking around, not thinking of COVID but yeah, having to wear masks to tick the boxes. But it was awesome. Having worked with Ro, it was amazing seeing him step into that role. It’s been really wonderful having the opportunity where you see people progress and you experience it with them. Even like Ro’s calmness was like — you could see him maturing on set. From every short film I’ve done [with him], he’s stepped up and then next level. You nailed it, Ro.
RD: Aww. I’m so glad.
AM-B: Even as an actor, I had never had the opportunity before to sit in a character’s shoes through such a progression, like for weeks which is such a gift. It’s really hard to get that. So often you’ll get a job and it’s a small role or it’s a small film. You don’t get to sit in it for a long time. Ro had sent me the script almost eight, seven months before, something like June or July before. He’s constantly making stuff. The first lockdown he made a short film of using his one balcony, of all these different people, and mushed it together to be an apartment block of everyone locked down on day 400 or 583 or something. It’s a constant creative force happening.
And what about for you, Will? What was that experience like?
WS: You know, I think the rule is these days if you have a window to make something, you do not wait. You get in there and you make it immediately. It’s the rule of the world today. It’s not just COVID, these things happen. Anything can happen. You need to make your film, you make it right now, and that’s exactly what Rowan did.
I think honestly, Rowan, the reason you got to make that film wasn’t because you made it in the perfect window. You didn’t get lucky. You made it because that window was open and you leapt and you went for it. You know? And that’s what it ended up becoming. But yeah, everything that Amanda was saying was so right. We had to wear face masks, but there wasn’t anxiety. No one had COVID back then. If someone had COVID, it was like “What?” Not anymore. We’ve all been through that now.
Rowan did a fantastic job, but someone else who I think did a really fantastic job was Sophie, our producer. Sophie is not the most experienced producer, but she did such a fantastic job, and she did it with the biggest smile on her face. That’s the biggest difference between Sophie and other producers I’ve worked with: she’ll work her arse off and have that smile on her face at the same time. That was the best thing.
The film is a lot more than about being a renter. It’s about discovering who you are in today’s world, in the workplace, and discovering who your friends are. What’s it like to represent and portray a generation on film right now?
RD: I know the overall film is called Evicted. But the theme or premise was sort of how technology has changed young people’s lives over the last few years. I think that’s what makes this generation’s version of this story. There’s been a lot of social change around the internet that’s only really now coming to the surface. I feel like it’s not just about housing, it’s about our dating lives and our work lives and how much of it has shifted in quite positive ways, but also in a few negative ways.
And I think it’s about the speed. I wanted to show how our lives are really sped up, and it’s caught a lot of people by surprise. You end up in longer term relationships without ever declaring what it is. You end up in these jobs for years on end where you have no job security. I think that was the key to telling that story, to show how it’s changed, how this is different to like The Castle from yesteryear or any other films around home identities.
For your character, Amanda, she starts working at a place that feels very much the kind of place that exists nowadays where people have an idea and they don’t actually think out what the work is going to be.
What was the fun of portraying that particular job?
AM-B: I think that script was so beautifully written by Ro. And working opposite Warwick [Young] was hysterical. He is a force and he nails that character so well. I think as an actor, you let the script do the work of representing a generation, and you just concentrate on your story, because if you can give that, you have done your part. The way it was written, there were elements of farcical comedy, but the issues were so true. I love that she just wanted to be taken seriously. And like no one wants the truth. Like we are all about Kardashian bra sizes. That’s it. 140 characters. And I mean, personally, I find that an issue in our world. Our world is more nuanced than bite-sized pieces of information. [But no, it has to be] bite-sized and easy to absorb. You’re running on the cultural zeitgeist as opposed to reality or truth and history.
For your character, Will, you partake in the gig economy. Did you do any testing out of the gig economy to get a bit of understanding of what that actually feels like? Or is working on film already an experience of that?
WS: Well, I work on a lot of film sets, and lots of different film sets in lots of different roles. I do a lot of editing, but I’m also a gaffer, I gaff commercials. I’ve been a boom operator for an entire year, I boomed everyone’s short films. I direct films as well, I write films as well. I’ve even done makeup. So I’m constantly shifting back and forth.
That’s definitely something that I’ve brought on to this, in the sense that I float around to do all kinds of different roles in order to bring some kind of contribution. And that’s how I felt like my character was. When Rowan first approached me to do this film, he told me, “Don’t let me tell you who your character is. Instead ask me questions about what you would do in certain situations.” And I loved that, and that’s exactly what I did. From that, I was able to grab a picture of “Okay, great, this is what my character should be. This is what I should be doing.” And that’s how I ended up portraying Will.
RD: Will is a renaissance man.
You’ve all got different aspects of filmmaking, interests and skills behind you. We’ll start off with Will. What is your filmmaking journey? Where did you start? And what is your goal in creating films?
WS: I approach filmmaking in its entirety, I don’t see it as separate roles and separate things, especially indie films. Often, you are the person that drives everything behind it. And in those situations, if you don’t have a gaffer, if you don’t know how lighting works, you just got to jump in and do it. And that’s exactly what I’ve done over a decade of filmmaking. (laughs)
AM-B: And very well.
WS: Acting, I think, is a big part of that as well. If anything, when I was on set, I had to switch off huge parts of my brain. I became really good friends with one of the lighting assistants on set, Rose. And something I did is after a take and Rowan’s discussing whatever, I’d just lean over and go “Hey, Rose. What did you think of my performance?” (laughs) And then the lighting assistant who was only like 17 or something would be like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, it was good. I like the energy.” I was like, “Great. Awesome.” And then “Action!” and I’d like “Aaah!” That was a whole lot of fun.
Amanda, what was your journey into film and what are your goals of being in film?
AM-B: I love film. I love storytelling. I love theatre. I studied acting and theatre at Nepean many years ago, and then studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York and Atlantic Theatre in LA and New York. And then I came back to Sydney and was like, “This is hard, to get work.” And I was a runner, I worked in wardrobe. I waitressed on and off for many years and did lots of random jobs, helped people style things. And then I started writing, actually. I picked up writing a few years ago. I made a short film and that was amazing. That was the first time I produced something, not to the level that Sophie did. I got a Sophie in to help me (laughs) because I wouldn’t be able to nail that role.
I’ve been a gun for hire really, but then trying to do as much as I can on the side. The Story Mill have hired me a few times, which has been awesome. They’ve probably been my biggest employer. I’ve done some random political skits. It’s always random. But I love theatre as well. I love storytelling. I think for me, it’s really important for humans connecting, whether it’s film or theatre, telling a story.
And yourself, Rowan?
RD: Just going back to Will’s answer, as a director, I think the job of the director is to communicate what you want. And to be able to do that, you need to know everyone’s roles. I’ve always worked on the logic that if the entire crew quits on me, I should be able to do every job poorly, just so I’m able to communicate what we need from sound and lighting and from the camera as well. If you want to be a director, you’ve got to be a jack of all trades, you got to know every different field and you got to try — like Will said, you’ve got to try gaffing, go do editing, because then you can really put it all together at the end.
I’m from Perth originally and so I moved over nearly nine years ago now to study at AFTRS. And I studied screenwriting, and it’s just been grown since then. I met Sophie who’s working behind me, we founded The Story Mill together. The last four or five years, we’ve been running a production company, which involves doing a bit of everything. But screenwriting is my main passion.
And what do you aim to do as a filmmaker?
RD: Definitely make more films. But if I had to put down one goal, I want Margaret Pomeranz to review this film. And then I can retire, that’s all I need in my life. I just want Margaret to review it. And then I’m out.
I love the way that you’ve segmented the film and the different images and motifs that you’ve used to break it up into different sections. Can you talk about how you went about selecting the images to put in the interstitial moments?
RD: The film was always chaptered. But [the images] came sort of during the post-production. The main image, the one that we use for Evicted was the first one we locked on. It’s called The Decadence Of The Roman Empire. We had this theme of finding images that connected to what’s happening in the film, a more exaggerated version. And I do think they have some kind of relevance, each of them connect with storyline. It was tying the idea of Roman Empire end of time decadence to late-stage capitalism. I like that sort of commentary there.
It makes you wonder what the people of the future will think about what we went through and what we did, and our actions.
RD: They’re gonna look back at us and think we’re idiots.
I was going to ask about the alleyway coffee place. Does that kind of place actually exist? I’m from Perth, so we have some alleyway places but not to that effect. It feels like a very Sydney thing.
RD: The one I mainly based it on is one in Perth, in Northbridge. I forget the exact street, but yeah, I used an exaggerated version. But I just feel more and more it plays into the themes. As real estate becomes more expensive, these cafes get smaller and smaller. It’s kind of a look as well, it’s an interesting vibe. I definitely go to these places, and they have more of a homey feel. But it’s a bit like “Well, I could just have coffee at home. I have a backyard — no, I don’t have a backyard but if I did, I could have coffee there.”
AM-B: If you did, you might start a cafe and make some money.
RD: I think coming from Perth myself, Perth has big streets and garages, and garages are just not a thing here in Sydney, it’s just cars everywhere. That kind of shocked me, the idea of like you don’t put your car in a garage. It’s just on the street.
What’s the difference between Perth filmmaking and Sydney filmmaking, then?
RD: I don’t think it’s too much different. It’s more of an industry thing. There’s just a bigger industry here. I don’t think there’s many different techniques. Hmm, that’s a good question. I guess if I made this film in Perth, it’d be a different storyline, because WA has different issues around that. But yeah, I think it’s just a faster industry in Sydney than Perth.
AM-B: You get better sunsets in Perth over the ocean visually.
It is nice to hear somebody from over east say that. We do have lovely sunsets here.
AM-B: They’re amazing.
RD: Oh, the weather’s so much better in Perth. It’s beautiful. But there is a really good local scene in Perth. I guess there’s probably not as much money. I think you could definitely make an indie film in Perth without an issue. I know they’ve now scrapped that big studio they were going to build.
The studio is still on the agenda. But you know, it moves and moves and moves. Who knows if it’ll ever happen?
RD: To be honest, I would just put more film fund money in. I saw that studio and I was like “That studio is designed for Marvel. I’m not sure that’s gonna help local filmmakers.” They need money.
Pretty much, yeah, but isn’t that the way for all filmmakers? One of the big things is we’ve got a change of government, and now we have a new Labor leader who is very passionate about the arts. What does that mean to have an arts minister who actually supports the arts?
AM-B: I’m so excited. But there’s also like a worry because it’s such a cultural thing. And I worry about the Murdoch media jumping on it and then all of a sudden, [the government] get scared and they pull it. The intention is there and that’s amazing. We’ve had such intense cuts to the industry, even through COVID. Artists weren’t getting the JobKeeker payment along with universities, and it definitely sends a message. But it feels very exciting that there is a government that is going to support the arts. Hopefully, it actually physically manifests in a way that makes a real difference.
WS: I would echo what Amanda’s saying. There’s a hesitancy because personally, I feel like arts funding is something that has been abandoned a long time ago. And you kind of learn to live without it. And going back to Evicted, when Rowan first came to me, he was like, “Will, I want o make a feature film, we’re gonna make a feature film.” And I’m like, “Okay, cool, you and everyone else.”
But he actually did it, and he was adamant on making this with independent funding. I watched him, going, “How are you going to raise anything close to what you need?” And he did it, plus more. The film ended up being 100,000, a little bit more than 100,000, all things considered. But it was a monumental effort. And it’s just goes to show that if you have the will, if we need to do something, you can make it happen.
AM-B: He had Will.
RD: I’m excited that there’s a change of government. And hopefully it will lead to more funding. But I think it needs more long-term reform. I think throwing in more money is not going to help the issue. We’re in a bit of a rut when it comes to arts funding. It needs a new direction. The Australian industry was one of the biggest in the world in the 70s and the 90s when they had that 150% tax break that funded a lot of big films like Mad Max — well, very small films that went on to be very big. I think it needs something like that, there needs to be something more.
Having just fundraised a film project with privately funds, there’s a big issue of what do people get out of it? People are investing in the films. It’s a big risk for them, and they’ve taken a chance on us, but there’s no support around the average person putting in money, around private funding. Something like that would change the game. I think more public funding isn’t going to solve the issue. I think it’s more about connecting us with private money and having a bit of a system around that.
WS: Australian Cultural Fund which this film was crowd-funded through, that’s a government initiative. That was really good. Australian Cultural Fund is fantastic. It’s a great resource.
AM-B: That’s the feeling with fundraising, people giving [it money] gave the film a great legitimacy. The fact that they donate money and it was a tax deduction was a really great help.
RD: Which is the first of its kind. It changed the conversation, because [before] people could give us money, but they’d get nothing out of it. But having a tax donation gave them permission to put more money in because they were getting something out of it on top of helping us make the film.
WS: We have so much talent in [Australia], and we’re starving to have our voices heard. There can never be enough funding for the amount of talent that we have over here.
RD: There’s a tonne of great filmmakers who just need money and support and then they will make amazing films.
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