A Chat With Julie Barker About iNKABA
I don’t remember the last time I was this excited about a local production. Inkaba is not the first local telenovela; SABC has tried the format before, but what got me excited about Inkaba is that it has some of the best actors in the country and the biggest coup is that at the helm of the stories is a woman that I have come to admire and respect in the industry, Julie Barker, who serves as the head-writer of the show.
On Tuesday night, I attended the media briefing of the show and got the opportunity to watch episode 2 of Inkaba. The show is not ground breaking nor is it revolutionary. It is a modern day South African version of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet but what it has at the core of its heart is a simple human love story, which viewers will enjoy. It is the simplicity of the show that appealed to me, in the midst of desperate TV shows that are caught between finding an identity and pulling ratings, Inkaba knows who its audience is and has created storylines that will appeal to their audience. I caught up with Julie and this is what she had to say about the show.
Phathu Makwarela: How did you get involved with Inkaba and at what stage did you come on board?
Julie Barker: I was approached by Urban Brew to head write the show in March last year. I was part of the team who’d worked through the development phase of The Wild and enjoyed it immensely. To have the opportunity to develop another show so soon after The Wild felt like a gift.
Phathu: You are a veteran when it comes to soapie writing in this country. Having worked on Isidingo, Scandal and The Wild. How different is a telenovela from a soapie?
Julie: A veteran? (laughs) I would rather call myself a survivor! Seriously, a telenovela is a dream format for writers because it’s like a soap with an end. In long running format the battle becomes about how to realistically maintain character into infinity. When you have an end, you know where your characters will start and all end up, it makes storytelling freer. It also makes storytelling more exciting – you don’t have to artificially draw out stories longer than they need to be.
Phathu: Soap operas in America are a dying breed and Hispanic telenovelas are the new thing there. Do you think the same could happen to South African soapies?
Julie: I do think creating characters and then keeping them trapped in a kind of emotional journey (i.e He’s always evil, or she’s always good) year after year ultimately makes for boring television. I think the concept of something that lasts for a year but ends with a bang is good news for viewers – they won’t get bored as easily. It’s also good news for the industry – the pool of experts is small and we need to grow it quickly.
Phathu: Inkaba is set in the world of fashion, which makes it aspirational. Do you believe that aspirational themes are what audiences want to watch? Since almost all other soapies are also aspirational.
Julie: Yes, the primary world is the world of fashion, which is glamorous and I believe that aspiration is not only about wanting money, or living big. Aspiration can also be about following your dream, no matter what that dream is. Or aspiration can be about wanting to be the best parent you can be. These varying themes of aspiration are what we try and explore in Inkaba. Is this what audiences want to watch? I do believe that audiences want a variety of things to watch. I believe in the power of storytelling. I believe that a well told story will resonate on a universal level and then automatically have mass appeal. Slumdog Millionaire is an example of what I mean by this.
Phathu: Inkaba is Urban Brew studio’s first major drama production. How was the working relationship between you as a creative and the producers?
Julie: I would call this a satisfying collaborative creative process. A lot of people came in and out of the brainstorm process, for a whole variety of reasons. They all contributed in small but meaningful ways, and there are in fact too many to name. But Bra John [Kani who is a gem!] stole my heart for his diplomacy, his anecdotes on the struggle as well as his perceptive insights into character. I also worked very closely with Portia Gumede who is the Creative Producer on Inkaba. Portia is a very smart and a very fierce storyteller. We laughed a lot, we fought an enormous amount about character and in doing so arrived at some special stories. We like to call ourselves: 2 Fat Ladies – lost in transformation!
I have to say, Portia is another insanely, crazy woman who has so much talent, you can bottle it and sell in in Serbia.
Phathu: What can viewers expect when they tune into Inkaba?
Julie: Intriguing, amusing and satisfying viewing, hopefully! Because the show is multi-generational there really are stories for older as well as younger viewers.
Phathu: There is talk that if Inkaba does very well in terms of ratings, the channel might turn it into a soapie. Do you think that will be a good or a bad thing?
Julie: I think anything is possible as long as you give the creative process the time, space and freedom it needs. And then back up that material with the very efficient processes needed to run a soap. People make the mistake of thinking it’s the actors or the stories that make a soap successful. Yes, these are important components, but ultimately it is a story factory and a sausage is only as good as the factory it’s made in. Isidingo taught me that.
Phathu: What is next for Julie Barker post Inkaba?
Julie: A long holiday on a deserted island without broadband or laptops. Seriously, hopefully more time to spend with my children and my husband. In future I’d like to head write dramas. I’m also doing my MA in Creative Writing at Wits.
Interview by Phathu Makwarela for Just Curious.
**Inkaba launches on Monday, 19 March and will be broadcast Monday to Thursday at 20:30, on Mzansi Magic, DSTV Channel 107.