The Castle for a new generation, one that will be stuck in share houses forever

Director Rowan Devereux sees his first film as the opposite of The Castle.

Yes, it’s a low budget Australian film. And, yes, it’s a warm-spirited comedy. But while the 1997 classic was about owning a home, Devereux’s Evicted: A Modern Romance is about the horrors of renting.

Finding an appealing new home for affordable rent in the inner suburbs is even tougher than getting a cheap pair of jousting sticks.

A promised second bedroom might turn out to be only reachable by climbing a rope ladder up to an attic. A house may seem ideal . . . until you notice one room is blocked off by crime scene tape. An unhelpful real estate agent from one inspection is the same unhelpful real estate agent working for a different company at the next inspection.

These scenarios confront four desperate housemates, played by Amanda Maple-Brown, Will Suen, Rose Haining and Clare Cavanagh, who are being evicted from their longtime rental house in Sydney’s inner west.

It’s the castle they don’t own, Devereux says.

Evicted, which is having a world premiere at , follows the housemates as they hunt for a new home while being buffeted about in the gig economy and facing family and romantic calamities.

Devereux, who is joined by producer Sophie Saville and three of the actors who play housemates to share rental market war stories, is thrilled their film is in the festival. It’s a Sydney film so this is the perfect opening for us, he says.

Not surprisingly, Evicted was inspired by being evicted.

Devereux was being turfed out of his third home in three years – this one was being demolished for a townhouse development – when he went to a party and shared his angst to friends.

Everyone had the same story – just being constantly moved around and not really having a stable location, he says.

He started writing what he sees as a film about his generation, who have grown up with that cliched Australian dream of owning a house but who find it ever more difficult to achieve.

I’m in my 30s and I still live in a share house and that dream just keeps moving away, Devereux says. So I wanted to talk about generational change [in the film]. It’s just become too unaffordable.

He thought he had pushed the comedy too far with a scene that had the hapless housemates inspecting a house that had a toilet in the kitchen.

Then I had an inspection that week – a townhouse in Marrickville, Devereux says. I was looking at the oven and opened what I thought was the pantry and it was the spare toilet – thee feet away from cooking utensils.

Cavanagh has had a similar experience.

I inspected an apartment on King Street once that was exactly the same, she says. The toilet, the whole bathroom, was literally in the kitchen.

Maple-Brown has been friends with Devereux for many moves into many homes.

It’s been like ‘a house party? Another one? ’, she says. It’s a constant housewarming.

The modern romance of the title refers to the connection that tenants often have with their longtime share homes.

You end up being there so long that you feel a kind of affection for it, Devereux says. And it becomes a found family. All the characters in the film have questionable relationships with their parents so they find each other and they’re held together by the house.

There is a very inner Sydney scene in Evicted where two of the housemates try to have a serious relationship discussion in an oh-so-trendy coffee shop jammed into a tiny lane between a house and a fence.

That was a real fun scene, Haining says. And it actually was a very tight space that we were trying to work with.

It is always surprising how many low to microbudget films get made around the country every year.

According to Screen Australia, 45 feature films were shot for less than $1 million in the five years to 2020-21. And some, like Evicted, cost a lot less.

So how do they do it?

Devereux says the budget was $100,000 roughly, partly raised by crowdfunding and extended in clever ways.

Three years ago, a film shot for just $4000 screened at the festival. Former Australian Film Television and Radio School student Imogen McCluskey made the drama by recruiting fellow students and friends who were prepared to forgo fees to get a start in the industry and using the school’s equipment.

The budget went largely on a film student’s version of catering – pesto pasta, hummus and carrots – production design, costumes and filming in an Airbnb when they could not source a free location.

The just-as-resourceful Devereux and Saville had more money and one advantage – they had a production company, The Story Mill, that had equipment they could use to shoot Evicted. They also called in favours for free locations.

All the houses were basically my friends’ houses, Saville says. I somehow convinced a lot of my friends to let us have 30 people in their house and take it over for a day . . . or five days.

Rowan and I joke that we’ve got ‘special thanks’ at the end of the credits but also ‘apologies’.

To avoid upsetting those generous friends, the production paid for a cleaner when they finished filming.

Saville says it was important working on such a restricted budget to hire the right cast and crew – people who wanted to be involved for reasons other than just money.

It was about ‘let’s go make something really cool’, she says. And it was in the middle of the pandemic so people weren’t that busy.

While mainstream Australian films usually source funding from Screen Australia and/or a state film agency, the ultra low budget end of the industry has to source a finance in other ways.

Devereux says it was liberating to an extent making Evicted without government funding.

We got to the point where we were happy with the script so it was like, well, we’re just going to find the money and do it, he says. But we did beg, borrow and steal. We’re not micro. We had a bit more money to play with but we decided to shoot in 30 locations over four weeks so we made it very hard for ourselves.

Maple-Brown chimes in with an important consideration for the cast. These guys have always been admirable ever since I first worked with them, she says. Even for short films, they’ve always paid actors, which I’ve always thought is so wonderful.

Devereux says they learnt how to make a feature film on the job. You can prep for the first week but after that you’re making it up as you go, he says.

Even with both director and producer not paying themselves during the shoot, he had to use a wallet full of credit cards to finish the film. It was like, look, we’re just going to have to pay to get it done, we’re this far in, he says.

Happily, those credit cards have been paid off. Which is lucky. The rent is due any day now.

Sydney Film Festival runs from June 8-19.

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