"Never Stop Developing and Working on it!", Julie Barker

  Godfrey Johnson (GJ) talks to prolific writer and  dear friend Julie Barker (JB). Julie’s Professional Journey. In 2017, I wrote 20 script...

 Godfrey Johnson (GJ) talks to prolific writer and  dear friend Julie Barker (JB).

Julie’s Professional Journey.

In 2017, I wrote 20 scripts for a new BBC 1 series called Armchair Detectives, hosted by Susan Calman, which won a BAFTA Scotland in 2018. In 2017, I script edited the American film, Then Came You, for Amazon Prime, U.S.A and produced a short film called The Hide, funded by the Scottish Film Talent Network. From 2016 – 2013 I worked as a Story Editor for BBC Scotland Drama, where I read script submissions and novels and critically evaluated their viability for television. During this time, I was also Story Producer and Editor at River City, BBC Scotland’s flagship Continuing Drama Series. In 2015 I was awarded an MA (with distinction) in Creative Writing, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. For this I wrote an historical novel, called Other People’s Countries. My teen novel, A Shining Star was published for the South African Second language curriculum for primary school. Between 2002 and 2012 I worked in South Africa as Head Writer for the daily drama, Scandal! and iNkaba for ETV, and for a 13-part series called Ixozo Connexion. I worked on The Wild as a senior writer for Mnet, as well as scriptwriter, storyliner, and script editor on Isidingo. Before television I wrote and directed a variety of plays and cabarets.


GJ: Dear Julie, I had the privilege of working with you many years ago and was immediately struck by your originality, work ethic and consistent sense of humour. What inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?

JB: To be completely honest, I think the reasons change as one’s perspectives alter. In my twenties, I was drawn to the arts as it seemed like the only arena where I could fully express myself. But with hindsight, it was probably the best vehicle to impact maximum change in South Africa. I very much wanted to alter the world I lived in, and I still do want that very same thing. 

GJ: Mark Twain once asked,” You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” Do you agree with him, and if so, what keeps your imagination in focus?

JB: I love this quote and have not heard it before. But, yes, I very much agree with him. And there are times when my imagination has blurred and even times when I have lost it all together. What always brings me back to core creative impulses is going back to my internal drawing board, starting from scratch and doing left brain writing exercises, stream of consciousness writing, and walking. Most importantly, allowing myself the space to create without pressure or format. 

GJ: How does writing for screen differ from writing for stage?

JB: It has been so long since I have written for stage that I am not sure I remember! But writing for television is a much more technical process. The core creative processes, things like story and character development are probably the same. But when it comes to structuring how the story will unfold and be visually realised, the two formats diverge quite drastically. For theatre, there is a lot of scope to realise things in non-linear and non-realistic ways which add depth and nuance to story - and are not always too difficult to achieve. In television, in principle this is similar, but the cost and resources are often much more – it’s easier (and often more visually interesting) to create a character drowning in a tidal wave on a stage than it is on television – where you would need to outsource for special effects … essentially film and television is unbelievably expensive and that’s why it’s so difficult to break into as a writer. Producers need to know that the six-part drama series which will cost £1million per episode will be a sure-fire success and they can recoup their money and make a profit.

GJ: Can you name a few career highlights?

JB: I loved the Cabaret we did together, Die Koup Jy Misalliance Kompetisie – ‘n Kabaret … it was really experimental and ground-breaking. I also loved working on Isidingo – again, it felt like we were breaking new ground, telling challenging stories and changing lives. Working as a head writer on Johnny and Tiffany Barbuzano’s show, Izoso Connexion was probably my South African television highlight – everything about it was creative, inclusive, stimulating, and exciting. In Britain, I loved producing the short film, The Hide as I was involved in every single aspect of the film process from script development to the final edit. I learnt an enormous amount. My time at the BBC was a huge learning curve and one I am very grateful for. Finally, writing on Armchair Detectives was a fantastically positive and affirming process. Essentially, I have been very lucky.

GJ: What advice would you give to young aspiring actors, writers, musicians, and directors?

JB: Develop your own unique voice – and – this is very important – never stop developing and working on it. For every Breaking Bad there are a few thousand series which were very similar – but Vince Gilligan the creator - had a clear and very developed vision and that is what it made it unique. Which is why it got made. Lin Manuel Miranda created Hamilton so that Latino actors could get parts in musical theatre. But he worked unbelievably hard at it and it took him years. That work and singular vision is why it got produced. If you want to go into the arts and make a career of it – you have to be willing to work harder than you can ever imagine, for many years without much recognition. It is the toughest industry imaginable. 

GJ: Who are your favourite writers and why?

JB: So many – too many to mention, but I will give it a go. Samuel Beckett – Waiting for Godot - for his theatrical, absurd, and challenging approach to the depiction of human relationships. Arundhati Roy – God of Small Things - for her literary fairy tale, which explores India through the lens of class, gender, and time. David Simon –The Wire – a television masterpiece which explores one city from five different aspects and essentially rewrote the rules of television creation. 

GJ:  What are you currently working on?

JB: Over the past two years, I have been working on a series of memoir pieces – and I am developing them into some sort of non-fiction compilation – I am not sure yet what it’s final form will be. All I can say is that it is inspired by the writings of Rebecca Solnit – whose combination of historical and personal perspectives really resonates with me. I have been lucky enough to have had some of them published – one which made it to the John Byrne Award shortlist. 


Armchair Detectives: https://twitter.com/i/status/921338325138583553

Memoir writing: https://www.johnbyrneaward.org.uk/entries/is-there-life-beyond-patriarchy/

The Hide – short film: https://youtu.be/mrGZE0aAGfk

Then Came You: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_B_i34jQK6k



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Urban Craft Magazine: "Never Stop Developing and Working on it!", Julie Barker
"Never Stop Developing and Working on it!", Julie Barker
Urban Craft Magazine
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