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.


  1. Simply wonderful, might dare and say this is my favorite piece thus far. There’s no “we” in writing, but it should be.

    Comment by Inar — January 21, 2008 @ 1:29 pm | Reply

  2. wonderful

    Comment by xakbox — January 22, 2008 @ 6:18 am | Reply

  3. Sleeper Cell *would* be a good name for a porn flick… 😉

    Comment by Mark — January 29, 2008 @ 5:35 am | Reply

  4. Cy — Congratulations! Just saw ‘Kung Fu Panda’ and about jumped out of my seat when I saw your name (though I did see it several years ago in a TwoMorrows publication where you donated art). I was the artist who worked with your Dad in Cincy when he had the comic shop doing a vriety of illustrations / posters / etc. I believe I even stopped over at the house several times to give you some ‘pointers’ on an origianl comic book you were working on for school. Best of luck, pal — your Dad would be proud of ya!

    Comment by John A. Rodak — June 28, 2008 @ 2:57 pm | Reply

  5. actually, i know ethan from a long time ago. he had just finished his script for “demon knight”. we worked on an nyu student film “the lawnmower man”. i was wondering if i could get in contact with him

    Comment by craig lindberg — September 7, 2008 @ 7:17 am | Reply

  6. Excellent essay and a great philosophy. I am actually looking to get in touch with Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Vorhis about an early piece of their work. Is there any way of getting an email address at which I can reach them?

    Comment by Chris Cerami — October 3, 2008 @ 11:28 pm | Reply

  7. Well, this is the beauty of yourself and i love it.. your a beautiful person and it show in your writings…

    Comment by m0ch4fudg3 — October 22, 2008 @ 7:41 pm | Reply

  8. Hey Cyrus,
    Tony Howard here, SCPA, planet of the apes w/ Rick Gerke, you know the guy!
    Just read up on you in the Cincinnati Enquirer tele section, sounds like you’ve been busy, my good fellow. Great to hear, hope all your ventures turn golden!!!!!
    do me a favor, keep me updated as to what your up to in the future,

    Comment by Tony Howard — November 4, 2008 @ 9:34 am | Reply

  9. Hi Cy, You know I have always been proud of you! When we were both children living in Cincy I remember your room covered with comic magazines and your passion about creating animations.They were all so original! I love everything you do!
    Your #1 FAN!
    Your Cuz,

    Comment by Laurel Conran — December 31, 2008 @ 5:28 am | Reply

  10. i wonder if the writers know “where” the inspiration comes from??? the theme, lines, philosophy et al of kungfu panda are sufficient material for a spiritual quest … great work, and thank you

    Comment by HARI — January 29, 2009 @ 12:37 pm | Reply

  11. Ethan,
    I think you’ve got a wicked itch for writing great stories. Keep up the great work. DemonKnight remains, to this day, one of my all time favorite horror movies.
    Take care.


    Comment by Julieta — March 6, 2009 @ 7:14 am | Reply

  12. Nice piece. Ethan, I just wanted to say I saw the newest Robin Hood trailer and now, I’ll admit, I can’t wait to see it! Drop me a line and bring your kids into Disney for a tour of Phineas and Ferb.

    Comment by Dan Povenmire — April 6, 2010 @ 5:55 am | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: