Why We Write

January 21, 2008

Why We Write – Number 24 – Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Vorhis

Number 24

Today’s piece is written by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris, Creators and Executive Producers of “Sleeper Cell.”  (Editor’s note: Thus this is the first essay which is truly a “Why WE Write.”)


Why do we write?  We swear we are not patronizing you with use of the “Royal” we, for we are in fact a writing TEAM.  Kind of like the New York Yankees or the Cincinnati Reds, only much less successful.  After devoting more than a minute but less than an hour to the question we have arrived at several answers…

First up: we write because of our own AUDIENCE FRUSTRATION.  We both love movies.  We both grew up watching movies constantly.  For better or worse movies for us served much the same purpose as the Code of Hammurabi, the Old Testament, the Constitution of the United States and Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book have served for various constituencies in the history of the world: they were our guidebook for life.  When we got old enough to understand how they got made we wanted to make sure we’d get to see more movies we would enjoy — and sometimes the only way to do that is to write that movie yourself.

About a year ago we sold an original spec screenplay called “Nottingham.”  The simple premise of the story is Robin Hood retold from the Sheriff of Nottingham’s point-of-view, with the Sheriff as the hero rather than the villain.  Why did we write it?  Because one of us grew up loving Robin Hood and the other has a lifelong obsession with Medieval history and we both wanted to see this new version of the classic story for ourselves — the last Robin Hood movie having been the Costner version from over 15 years ago.

The same holds true for television, in terms of our writing growing out of our frustration…

One of us was born and bred in New York, the other lived there for half of his adult life.  After 9/11 we both wanted to somehow turn our personal emotional trauma into something cathartic, maybe even positive — and we were incredibly frustrated by the half-baked, wishy-washy (to quote Charlie Brown) attempts to deal with themes of terrorism and counter-terrorism in the context of popular-culture.  All of which exploded into the creation of our Showtime series “Sleeper Cell” — a show that both of us desperately wanted to see, but was nowhere near the airwaves at the time.

But deep as our audience frustration may be, it probably isn’t the only reason we write.  There are the tender and heartfelt reasons as well.  A few years back we wrote an animated feature for Dreamworks called “Kung Fu Panda.”  We wrote it so that our kids could finally watch something we had written.  The punch-line is that by the time the movie finally comes out this Summer, most of our kids will be too old to want to see it.

There is also the attempt to play God, to create a world almost exactly like this one, populated with characters who are slight variations on people we know, have known or have wished to be.  A world that’s not the Real World but the World As It Should Be — at least in our not-so-humble opinion.

We write to surprise each other, to entertain each other, to make each other laugh or cry, to send each other jumping into the air with excitement over a perfect line, an unexpected plot-twist, a brilliant character insight or an amazing action scene — not to mention in order to frustrate the hell out of each other, push each other’s buttons to the edge of physical violence and drive each other insane.

We write to avoid wearing suits to work on a daily basis.

And last but not least, we write in order to avoid becoming pornographers.

After all, we do live in Los Angeles.


WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers.  Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers.  If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at whywewrite@gmail.com.

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