Wentworth EP Jo Porter on The Freak, new cast & filming during Covid

Jo Porter

• How Fremantle has been planning the end of longtime Foxtel drama

The start of the final season of Foxtel’s prison drama Wentworth, branded as Wentworth: Redemption, begins this week. The first part of the season is 10 episodes to be screened over the next 10 weeks. The final part of season eight will screen with a further 10 episodes in 2021.

As the first parts of season eight go to air, the final scenes are being shot with the aim of all filming being complete early September.

Fremantle’s Wentworth executive producer and director of scripted, Australia, Jo Porter told Mediaweek the Melbourne-based production did shut down for a couple of months when Covid-19 took control in March. “We then looked at how we could modify shooting practices allowing us to resume. At the time we were doing this the number of new Covid-19 cases in Victoria was very encouraging.

“In consultation with all the key people including the cast and crew of course, we found a way we could continue, protecting the essence of the show, and doing so in a safe way.”

wentworth behind the scenes

Despite the increased pandemic activity in Victoria including a renewed lockdown, the restarted shoot has been underway for a month. “The feedback I am getting [back in Sydney] is that everyone does feel safe on set. I have been watching rushes and they have managed to still capture the feel of the Wentworth we know and love.”

Porter said the production takes place in a dedicated facility which they are able to close off to visitors. “All the actors and crew were already in Victoria before the new state lockdown. We have been very lucky in that all cast we needed were there. And we were lucky in that we had already started.”

Wentworth

Viewers to episode one will have to buckle up as it covers a fair bit of ground and delivers a number of cathartic moments. Has the pace really always been this frantic?

Porter: “One thing the team are very ambitious about is that they want to keep improving on the season before. That doesn’t necessarily mean just in terms of shock value, but also means the strength of the characters and the pull of the emotional stories as well.

The brief this season was very much to use this as an opportunity to hit the reset button for those people who may not have tried Wentworth before. It offers a chance to re-enter the world of Wentworth via the two fabulous new characters Lou [Kate Box] and Reb [Zoe Terakes].”

Wentworth newcomers Zoe Terakes and Kate Box

Wentworth newcomers Zoe Terakes and Kate Box

Returning this season is Pamela Rabe who started in the series as Joan Ferguson, the Governor of Wentworth Prison. The Freak, as she became known, was later incarcerated for a number of crimes and was eventually buried alive. Her casket was even dug up to see if she was dead in it. She was. This season she is back! How so?

Season seven ended with a glimpse of Ferguson alerting viewers to the fact that, somehow, she was very much alive.

“Joan Ferguson met a very dramatic end being put in her box,” explained Porter. “We worked very hard with the writers to ensure there was an absolutely credible and surprising way of explaining just how she could return. That explanation will be unpacked across the first half of the new season.”

Porter said there was much debate between the writers about how to cover that off. “But we feel it is a very watertight storyline as to how she is back.”

Wentworth herald sun

Being part of News Corp helps with the marketing plans. Newspaper covers and double page spreads are on offer in News Corp newspapers today.

Much of the Wentworth budget must be gobbled up by the cast which is perhaps the best-ever with a number of originals plus the addition of Marta Dusseldorp this season. Porter wouldn’t tell how much they drop on the cast, but she did explain:

“After watching all of the new 10 episodes and then the first two of the next 10, I realise we are so lucky. Most of these actors who are part of our cast would be leads in their own write on another show. We have actors who would not normally have the chance to play opposite each other because of the stature of their achievements. To have all these A-listers acting opposite each other is wonderful and we are so lucky to have them stroll through the gates of Wentworth.”

Wentworth

Internationally Wentworth continues to be a major success. With sales to 158 territories, the cast are in demand for promotional duties, but the spread of Covid-19 has put a stop to personal appearances at fan events around the world. “They get mobbed when they show up they are that well known,” said Porter. “Audiences have really embraced them.”

This is really the end…probably

When the final 20 episodes of season eight screen will this really be the end of Wentworth? What about a spin-off with a key character?

Porter: “Never say never. We don’t have immediate plans [for a spin-off] at this stage. There are some brilliant characters that could justify that, but there are no plans.”

Drama outlook in 2020

Porter: “I am optimistic about the future. But I am realistic to realise it’s not without its challenges. As a country and the creatives working in it, we have some unique and distinct stories that the rest of the world hasn’t seen. The challenge is we have to compete against shows which have huge budgets compared to what we are used to having. That means innovation. We know set up shows differently. We might have to go overseas to find a commission and then bring it back here to find a local home.”

Porter said Fremantle don’t currently have other drama, apart from Neighbours, in production. “But we do have a lot of advanced development on several shows where we are waiting for the flashing amber light to turn green. We are speaking with commissioners around the world and I am very excited about the projects we have been working on.

Top Photo: Jo Porter

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