Today’s first piece is written by Daniel Warren, Staff Writer of “Cory in the House.” The second essay is written by Marc Warren, Creator and Executive Producer of “Cory in the House”… and Daniel Warren’s father.
I’m in the family business. When my family first moved out to California in 1980, I was four years old. My Dad and his writing partner had taken a leap of faith, bringing their families out to LA to try and make it as sitcom writers. At first, we had no money, and there wasn’t any work. But they kept plugging away. I vividly remember the two of them sitting at our dining room table, usually laughing hysterically, sometimes arguing furiously. Even as a little kid, I knew that I wanted to be a part of that. The only thing I didn’t understand was that weird smoky smell that accompanied their writing sessions. Don’t judge. It was the 80’s, and I managed to grow up sane. Years later, at my first real party in high school, I smelled the smoke again, and thought to myself, “That is so weird that in the middle of this party, somebody’s writing a script.” Something clicked in my brain, and it all made sense.
After my Dad started to get his first taste of success, I would go visit him in the writer’s room, and it seemed like the coolest place on Earth. They had every candy and soda known to man. There were a zillion pencils stuck in the ceiling, there were pretty girls changing big Arrowhead bottles on the water cooler. When Dad came home late from “work”, I somehow knew that he was having more fun than I was having at school. There was never any doubt that this is what I wanted to do with my life.
But now came the tough part. I actually had to sit and produce something. And it was really fucking hard. You mean I couldn’t just go straight to the candy and the soda and the girls? After a million false starts, I finally got something down on paper, and my Dad has been my rock since Day One. He’s tells me when it’s funny, and more importantly, he tells me when it sucks. The worst is when he tells me “it’s close”, because that means that I have to write even more. I’m nervous about what he’ll think of this.
And now my Dad is my showrunner. My experience as a writer is that much more special to me because I get to be in the trenches with him. Every day, I get to sit at the table, and eat all that candy (although he generally pushes for the healthier snacks). I’ve learned how to “keep the train moving” when breaking a story, because even if it doesn’t make sense now, at least it’s something and it’ll get there eventually. I’ve learned the art of fake laughing at runthru. I’ve learned how to sneak dirty jokes onto what’s supposed to be a show for children. And hopefully, some day far in the future when this strike is over, I can make dick jokes with my kid.
When my son Danny was five my wife Melinda and I shoe-horned him into the back seat of our Malibu Classic and moved from New York (okay, Brooklyn) to Hollywood (okay, Van Nuys). “This is a family adventure”, I explained to him. I figured that sounded more fun than “Daddy’s lost his fucking mind and thinks he can be a screenwriter.” That this was even a remote possibility began a few years earlier with my friend Dennis Rinsler. In the late seventies we’d started writing humor pieces for The National Lampoon and other fine periodicals like Hustler, Velvet and High Society, the pre-Britney home of celebrity skin. One night, through a haze of tightly rolled inspiration, we decided to write some TVscripts. We coughed out a couple of specs and sent them off to a friend’s wife’s college roommate’s husband who was an agent at someplace called CAA. He of course passed them on to some guy fresh out of the mailroom. But that was okay, because Mailroom Guy called us and said our stuff was pretty good. He could get us a job as story editors on a sit-com for a couple of grand a week, but we’d have to move to California. What? Give up my high-paying, sky rocketing career as an inner city public school teacher? Cut to tires burning rubber as our car peels out leaving the New York (okay Brooklyn) skyline behind. Melinda actually went along with this. She believed in the dream and believed in me and I’ll always love her for that.
Freshly landed in la-la land Dennis and I headed up to CAA to claim our prize. I told Danny that pretty soon he was going to see one of his pop’s scripts on TV. More than anything I wanted him to be proud of me. But I also wanted to be to keep a roof over his head. And rooflessness seemed like a real possibility when we finally met our agent. He was walking through the lobby carrying what looked suspiciously like a moving box. He told us the business was fucked and he was out of there. Welcome to Hollywood. No agent. No job. No two grand a week on Three’s Company or Flo. He asked us if we needed any dope. That’s what got us into this mess in the first place. To our eternal thanks, another freshly minted agent, Rob Rothman, took pity on us. Rob worked tirelessly and finally landed us our first gig. It was on a show called Madame’s Place. For those of you too young to remember, Madame was a sassy puppet, and alter ego of a sweet, funny guy named Waylon Flowers. Dennis told the head writer Bob Sand he’d fuck Madam to get the job. Bob said, “Get in line”. But he hired us and I got to come home and tell Danny that Daddy was finally a working writer. He was as proud as any kid could be of a dad who was working for a puppet with a face like a penis and balls.
Over the next twenty odd years I stumbled my way up the ladder, eventually running shows and even creating a couple and getting them on the air. I’ve spent more time in the writers’ room than anywhere else (although the bathroom is starting to run a close second). It was a crazy ride filled with crazy people and I cherished every minute of it. I wasn’t surprised when Danny told me he wanted to be a writer. Danny always loved movies and television. From the time he learned to read he preferred Variety (before their current strike coverage) to Dr. Seuss. Now if I were in a normal family business, like dry cleaning or owning a media conglomerate, this would have been a moment of great jubilation. But I knew the challenges that lay before him. The endless specs, the broken promises, the despair of seeing your hopes ground into a fine powder and snorted up the nostrils of the dream killers. Yeah, good times. But he knew all that going in. He’d grown up with it. And he went for it anyway. Over the next couple of years, the kid learned his craft and paid his dues. When a spot opened up on my staff, I knew he was ready and deserving. So here we are, dad and lad, sitting at the table together, breaking stories, pitching jokes, praying for interruptions. When I look across at Danny, I still see that little boy poring through the trades for the latest grosses. I think about how far we’ve come together, how proud I am of him. I didn’t know it when I started. But this is why I write.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.