WRITERS ON WRITING: Writer/Director Maureen Bharoocha on Landing a Lifetime Movie

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Maureen Bharoocha got her first taste of life as a filmmaker by writing, directing and producing short films for Sprinkles Cupcakes. From there, her screenplay Mornie was a semifinalist in the Sundance Writers Workshop, and more recently she wrote and directed a physiological thriller which is set to air on the Lifetime Network in the coming months. Bharoocha has an MFA in directing from Boston University and has also directed numerous comedy videos for the Los Angeles Upright Citizen Brigade Theatre.

Script: What’s it like being the video queen for Sprinkles Cupcakes? How do you come up with story ideas? Is that the best job ever?

Maureen Bharoocha: Sprinkle is truly a dream job! A company that pays me to create beautiful content that tells a story and on top of that, they give you free cupcakes! Each short film is themed after a cupcake flavor so getting inspired is quite a tasty venture!

Maureen Bharoocha

Maureen Bharoocha directing

Script: How it is different to go from writing short films or segments to features? What are some of the challenges and/or why do you like it?

Maureen Bharoocha: Short form is a great way to challenge yourself to tell stories in the fastest way possible. The transition to writing feature scripts took some getting used to. I actually had to tell myself to slow down. Working in shorts trained me to cut the fat, but when it came to feature length, I realized I had tendency to make scenes too lean. Now, I’m comfortable telling the tightest story possible, but I am also able to give my characters more room to breathe and stretch out.

Script: How did you get the idea for your thriller, Fatal Flip, that you wrote and directed that will air on Lifetime?

Maureen Bharoocha: In Fatal Flip, a couple buys a fixer upper to flip, but when they discover the repairs are too much to handle, they hire a handyman who reveals himself as a psycho. I’ve also always been fascinated with stories of the interloper and terrified by home invasion. I’m also a big fan of 90’s mid-star vehicle movies (think Single White Female, Dead Calm, Freeway), so when I was given the opportunity to write a thriller, I thought that our Do-It-Your-Self cultural landscape was the perfect setting for a frightful fable.

Script: What’s your process? Do you outline? Or do you jump right into script pages? How long did it take to write this one?

Maureen Bharoocha: I love to collaborate with other writers. So, when I was asked to write the feature, I immediately brought my friend Ellen Huggins on board. Writing in a team is great because it’s fun to bounce ideas around and split the writing duties. We broke the story and drafted detailed outline together but then divvied up scenes. Our first draft took about one month to complete.

Script: What’s the biggest challenge when writing this kind of contained thriller? And for those out there who might not know what that means, can you define what a contained thriller is or what a studio expects when they ask for one?

Maureen Bharoocha: Location. Location. Location. A huge strength of the script was that almost the whole movie takes place in one location and stars only four actors. Since I knew our budget was going to be low, I wrote a film that could easily be shot on the cheap but have high production value. Art direction was key. I wanted the scenes to feel full, but we had to keep it cost effective. Having tarps, boxes, peeling paint and junk strewn about was the perfect way to add instant texture to a scene. I also had to scale back grand ideas and come up with creative ones for things we couldn’t afford. I also kept a close watch on stunts, night vs. day shoots, cars and special effects. It really boils down to scope and knowing what budget to write for.

Script: Once you’ve finished your script, what’s it like to take notes from the studio? How do you manage the notes, and how tough is it to implement them?

Maureen Bharoocha: Notes are really a lesson in listening. I found that sometimes I was given very specific notes while other times it felt like whim or a fleeting thought. I learned how to decipher the two and give the studio what they wanted even if it was delivered in a way other than what they expected. I had very clear vision in my mind, but I was also open to the path in which that vision was realized on screen.

Maureen directing

Script: Once you’re on set, how much rewriting do you have to do and is it tough to switch hats, from writer to director? What’s the most challenging thing about juggling both jobs?

Maureen Bharoocha: I did a lot of rewriting on set, which was very unusual for me. I work well under pressure and pulling double duty was changeling but also exhilarating. It forced me into a spiral of creative madness and allowed me to look deeper into the material while we shot, justifying story and intent all the way along. And there were definitely many changes I never would have made, had I not been a director-for-hire, but I knew that once I sold my script it was going to change. I am grateful I was connected to the material from the beginning because while I felt protective of the story. I also realized I was hired to make a piece of entertainment for someone other than myself and needed to deliver something the studio could sell.

Fatal Flip airs on Lifetime on August 29th.

Follow Maureen on Twitter: @mbharoocha

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