Expect the unexpected with Wentworth
Creating high-quality TV and raising the bar each season
Ahead of Wentworth’s seventh season airing on FOX Showcase later this year, we caught up with Director of Scripted at Fremantle, Jo Porter, about producing the award-winning show. From character development and hard-hitting themes, to what’s made the show globally successful – we hear it all.
As a recipient of our production funding, which is currently open for applications, we also get the low down on making a strong submission, what the added benefits of receiving Film Victoria funding are – such as taking part in our placements program – and the allure of shooting in Victoria.
Wentworth has captivated audiences at home and internationally for six seasons, with its seventh set to air this year and season eight in the pipeline. What’s the secret to the show’s global success and its ability to appeal to audiences across generations?
Set in a unique world where organically there are few men, this story enables us to explore female characters in positions of power at both ends of the spectrum. The characters are unique and identifiable, giving them universal appeal.
The series is a re-imagining of the original Prisoner series, the Australian drama soap opera set in a fictional women's prison, Wentworth Detention Centre. Where did the original inspiration come from and how did the show evolve?
The idea of reviving the original Prisoner series with a contemporary look and feel had been raised in various quarters of Fremantle for some time. The original series Prisoner had been broadcast on Foxtel, and garnering a legion of new fans which prompted discussions with Foxtel’s Executive Director of Television Brian Walsh, a passionate Prisoner fan. This set the wheels in motion to see if there was a way we could take the geneses of that story to a new audience.
Wentworth explores important, topical themes, including feminism, homosexuality and social reform. How does this tie in with the show’s popularity?
Wentworth is a microcosm of society where all questions of identity and interpersonal relationships are experienced in a heightened environment.
One of Wentworth’s strongest elements is its characters. What makes a television character work and what’s the creative process for developing Wentworth’s characters?
All great characters speak to a fear or a desire we would like to understand in ourselves. On this occasion we have had the luxury of leveraging off existing characters created for Prisoner. The writing team have done a magnificent job of reframing the characters into a contemporary setting, finding traits that are at times both identifiable and offering compelling story and character motivation. It speaks to the richness of these characters that they have helped to organically drive now eight seasons of this show. The second piece of the puzzle is of course having exceptional acting talent to bring this to life and continue to shade and nuance the characters.
Wentworth has made an enormous contribution to Victoria’s screen industry, including generating $80 million for the state’s economy and creating over 550 jobs each season since 2012. Why produce the series here? Why should major series consider Victoria as a production location?
We did have interest from other states to shoot Wentworth there. However, we were given a really compelling financial offer from Victoria and creatively, it just felt right to honour the original location of the Prisoner series. Victoria is also renowned for its exceptional writers, directors, cast and crew.
Wentworth has been supported with production funding from Film Victoria a number of times, including for its upcoming seasons. What was the impact of this support on the show’s success?
Absolutely essential, we would not have been able to continue without the support of Film Victoria.
Having made a number of successful funding submissions to Film Victoria, can you share any tips for new applicants? What makes a strong application? How long does it take to write one? When is the best time to apply – from a production perspective?
We have always been fortunate enough to enjoy great relationships with the Film Victoria team. They are aware of the projects we want to bring in, and this helps them understand the value they bring to Victoria.
It is important with the application that all the documentation is completed, which sounds obvious but I’m sure details are missed, and this does hold up the process for those assessing the applications. As well as being creative when describing the narrative of the project, be succinct and clear – clarity is key. You want the reader intrigued and engaged from the beginning.
How long it takes depends on how prepared you are with the background information required and when is the best time, I would suggest early in the financial year when budgets and production schedules are set, although not imperative.
What other benefits have you experienced as a result of receiving Film Victoria funding?
The Film Victoria placement program has been a resounding success with all of last year’s candidates on both Wentworth and also Neighbours, not only gleaning vital knowledge from our production team but also providing their own creative input in the writers’ room and on-set with the directors – it’s a win-win for everyone involved.
On the international landscapes, it’s an enormous show of faith in the marketplace to have the backing and support of Film Victoria.
With season seven just around the corner, what can we look forward to? Are there any new storylines or characters you can share?
As we’ve seen with each season, expect the unexpected! The gates of Wentworth are always swinging open to the potential of new characters and also so much more to explore from our much loved existing characters. Just when you think how can they possibly top the current season, our extraordinary team of writers, headed by Marcia Gardner, manage to raise the bar each time. This is definitely the case with season 7, soon to launch on Foxtel and internationally, and moving ahead with the next 20 episodes later this year.
Based on your industry intel, what do you think is next for Australian television drama?
The sky is the limit but what I do think is going to be vital is local and global partnerships to tell our stories and ensure our production values match world standards.
Wentworth has been supported through Film Victoria’s Assigned Production Investment Film and Television program for a number of seasons, including the upcoming season seven and 20-episode long season eight.
Find out more about the program, including how to apply, on the Film Victoria website.
The deadline for Feature applications is 11pm Monday 6 May 2019.
The deadline for Television/Online applications is 11pm Tuesday 11 June 2019.