Time and Temperature

b29-headToday’s 2013 Black List script comes to us from writer Nick Santora. If his IMDb page is to be believed, Mr. Santora has spent a lot more time writing and producing for the small screen than attempting features.

Frequent site contributor, walker, suggested the script for review on the site forums. If you haven’t had time to check these forums out yet, please do.

1. Is the dialogue (a) free of exposition and (b) rich in subtext? This will include (c) unique voices for each character. (each part worth 10 points)

Part A) The exposition in this script didn’t bother me, but I don’t believe today’s writer quite made it to my iceberg injunction either. Our first huge expo dump comes on pages 11-12:

She puts Dale’s hand on her tummy. Then Dale remembers…

DALE
Oh, hey, how’d the doctor go today?

PATTI
Ten fingers, ten toes. Dr. Fine says
she might be a big one.

Dale smiles, kisses Patti’s hand.

DALE
That’s great.

PATTI
She also said my hypertension is up a
bit — still in the safe range — but
she doesn’t think I should work
anymore. I told her I could try
sitting behind the checkout desk—

DALE
–No. If the doctor says you need to
get off you feet, then you stop. The
library will go on without you.

PATTI
I know, but my salary.

DALE
It’s just a few months before we knew
it would stop anyway.

PATTI
We need it. We’re floating bills as it is
– insurance co-pays are eating us up;
still a little late with the mortgage
payments and our rates just jumped…

The writer is giving us a lot of information about the state of the Julin household. We now know they are in a precarious financial situation which is about to be made a whole lot worse by Patti’s issues with her pregnancy. If they are barely avoiding drowning in debt when she is working, how will they be able to tread fiscal water when she isn’t?

This is the expositional message of these lines of dialogue. My biggest issue with it is Patti’s last line:

PATTI
We need it. We’re floating bills as it is
– insurance co-pays are eating us up;
still a little late with the mortgage
payments and our rates just jumped…

There are FIVE different pieces of information contained in that one line.

I submit that wives and husbands don’t talk to each other like this. A wife does not list out all of her family’s financial woes for her husband as though they are head accountants at a monthly profit and loss meeting. The husband ALREADY knows the information about the family’s monetary situation. He doesn’t need it listed.

Wives and husbands talk about things like getting the cable turned off, or which bills NOT to pay so that the important bills [like a mortgage] can be paid, when there are money problems. They talk about their situation the way two people who are FLUENT in the issues facing their family would talk.

As you’re writing your characters, keep that fact in mind, and follow my iceberg injunction!

The other tine on the fork of this story which requires some form of explication is Dale’s relationship with his father Don. We need to know Dale feels like his father is disappointed in the man he grew up to be, or we’ll never understand why Dale pursues the nuclear bomb cover-up story so forcefully.

The scene in which we first meet Don expertly handles the father/son issues without engaging in volumes of exposition.

Dale gets out of the car, kisses his mother.

DALE
Hi, Mom. Happy Anniversary.

She gives him a big hug/kiss. Then one to Patti.

VELMA
My chickies are back in the coop!
C’mon! I’ve got everything laid out to
make cookies. It’s the kind of dough
you can eat raw…

Patti and the girls follow Velma inside.

DON
Must’ve been a helluva lotta traffic.

DALE
Happy Anniversary, Dad.

They shake hands. No hugs. No kisses.

DON
Yeah. Your mother’s excited by it…

He grabs the biggest suitcase from the van…

DALE
That’s the heavy one…

DON
That’s why I’m carryin’ it.

Dale watches him walk off – all par for the course.

On screen this will be no more than a half minute of interaction. And yet, in less than thirty seconds,  we already know Don disapproves of his son, and his son is hurt by this disapproval. There is not one word of exposition in this dialogue and yet it tells us EVERY piece of information we need to understand Don and Dale’s relationship. How does it do this? Through its subtext. If I’ve said it once, I’ve now said it 100 times:

Subtext is the only natural form of exposition.

If not for the financial exposition which occassionally plagues the script, this would have gotten all the points.

7 out of 10 points.

Part B) Nearly all of the subtext in this script concerns Dale’s inability to distinguish himself in his world. This lack of memorability collects in both his personal and his professional life. It causes him to desire, almost more than anything else, that the world recognize him. The author goes one subtextual step further by relating this need in Dale to his relationship with his father, Don. Connecting the author’s dots, the reader quickly realizes that a large portion of Dale’s frustration with his ordinariness owes a debt to Don’s refusal to accept Dale, as Dale.

Dale feels [probably justifiably] that his father is embarrassed by the type of man he is. This translates, in Dale’s mind, to a need to gain validation from the world. If the world says Dale is a viable man, then maybe his father will too.

The first example is from pages 7-8:

DALE
Wayne, got a sec?

Wayne waves him in, doesn’t look up from his work.

DALE (CONT’D)
So, I, uh, I was wondering what the
test audiences had to say about me.

WAYNE (CONT’D)
Wayne looks up, mouth full of greasy breakfast sandwich.

WAYNE
(muffled)
About you? Well… ya know… slow and
steady, nice and consistent.

All the other members of Dale’s morning show team get great feedback about the audience’s perception of them—Dale get’s “nice and consistent”.

When pressed by Dale a page later, Wayne quits being vague and gives Dale the truth:

WAYNE
Reporters don’t run through cookie
forts. Ya wanna know why I didn’t
bring up your viewer responses in
front of everyone? Because of all the
hosts of all the morning shows of all
the nations’ affiliates, you were the
least memorable. 70% of the test
audience didn’t remember you when we
showed them your photograph an hour
after watching the reel.

Dale can’t get a better job at his station because the producer knows people in the audience don’t respond to Dale at all. To viewer’s, Dale is just the time and temperature guy. Wayne tells Dale to be happy with his job, and accept his bland life.

The next example is from page 26-27:

EXT. TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE – FRONT GATE – DAY
Dale pulls up, hands AIRMAN BATTLES (20, black) his ID.

DALE
Afternoon.

AIRMAN BATTLES
(as he checks the ID)
It’s 11:52.

DALE
Morning.

AIRMAN BATTLES
Any relation to Lt. Colonel Julin?

DALE
He’s my father.

GUARD
Tipped a few back with him at the EClub.
Guy’s got a million stories.

DALE
Yep… that’s my Dad.

As the Guard hands back the ID and raises the gate…

GUARD
Thought your name was Craig.

DALE
(here we go again)
That’s my brother.

GUARD
Didn’t know he had two sons.

Ouch! That one has to hurt. Your dad has a million stories, he has told this airmen enough of them about his other son, Craig, that the airmen remembers Craig by name, and he couldn’t think of one story to tell about Dale? The message in this burst of subtext is that Don only has one son he’s proud of.

This meme about Craig [the coach of a celebrated high school football team] continues on page 34:

BARTENDER
Sorry. Don’t open until noon.

Dale sees Teddy alone in a back booth with a scotch.

DALE
What about him?

BARTENDER
He’s got a reason to drink at 7.

DALE
C’mon. I went to school with him…
(Bartender doesn’t blink)
I’m Lt. Col. Julin’s son.

BARTENDER
The football coach?

Beat, then…

DALE
Yes.

Dale isn’t the football coach, he’s the TV personality. Once again, Don has made people in his orbit aware of one of his son’s without even bothering to mention the other one. This kind of fatherly behavior only seems appropriate if you’ve raised a son who ended up in jail.

From page 57:

Dale in the O-Club – he and Roy interview old timer TUGGLE.

TUGGLE (INTO ROY’S CAMERA)
Happy Birthday, Don, ya old fart!
(to Dale)
So how’s football season going?

DALE
…Gangbusters… but let’s focus on
the video. So you were stationed at
Travis before my Dad, correct?

Another of Don’s friends who ONLY knows about Craig the football coach. No matter how little approval you seek from the father figure in your life, this sort of dismissal would be hard to ignore. Don demonstrates, almost cruelly, that he has so little respect for Dale he doesn’t even tell people he exists. An idea which finally gets [brutally] summed up on page 76:

DON
When I’m in the bar and that show of
yours comes on, I tell ‘em to put on
the sports channel before anyone even
has a chance to see—

Unfortunately, as Wayne proved in the first two examples cited, Don isn’t the only one who views Dale as a ghost. I’ll quote one more passage and then assume the point is made. Again, from page 34:

Teddy looks up, eyes raw from painful days. He says nothing.

DALE (CONT’D)
I… um… I’m Dale Julin. We went to
school together – high school…

TEDDY
Don’t remember you.

To know Dale Julin is to NOT know Dale Julin… that is the subtextual message of this script. Dale is invisible.

10 out of 10 points.

Part C) The character individuation in Time and Temperature is very good. Mr. Santora isn’t Tarantino or the Coens but, then again, almost none of us are. I enjoyed the characterization of Wayne and Roy; their quirkiness made the pages turn when they were in the script.

On the other hand, I felt Patti, while respectably drawn overall, tended [mildly] toward caricature. Her need to defend, protect, support, and take care of Dale might put her on the fantasy side of Real Women. Genuine love grounds the relationship between Dale and Patti, but it still feels like Dale gets the much better end of the bargain.

8 out of 10 points.

2. Do the first 10 pages make me want to read to Fade Out? (20 points)

I adored these first ten pages. There are so many small ways in which Dale’s character gets set-up that really fascinated me. Easily my favorite of these examples comes on page 3:

He rolls to a FOUR-WAY STOP SIGN INTERSECTION. Red light. No
other cars anywhere. Catty-corner to Dale is a patrol car.
COP drinks coffee, reads his paper. Dale watches him,
waiting, as he rolls through the sign…

DALE
C’mon big fella, I’m rollin’ right
through…

Cop happens to look up, makes eye contact with Dale.

DALE (CONT’D)
Gotcha.

Dale hits the gas, speeds off, looks in his rear-view…

DALE (CONT’D)
Come ‘n get me, copper.

But nothing happens. Amazingly, Dale’s disappointed.

DALE (CONT’D)
Knew it… jerk.

The author waits six pages to pay this set-up off [remarkable considering how bizzare the behavior is], but when the reveal comes it energizes the reader. From page 9:

DALE
So, I’ve been working on this story…

Wayne freezes mid-bite, knows another “Dale pitch” is coming.

DALE (CONT’D)
African Americans drivers are pulled
over by Fresno police at a rate three
times higher than whites. I’ve pulled
stats from the DOT that back this up
and I’ve been doing my own experiment –
– going through stop signs when I know
a cop is watching —

WAYNE
–Stop. Just stop.

Now we get it. Dale’s weird behavior at the stop sign was “research” for a story he wants to do. This tiny set-up and reveal is an exceptional example of Snyder’s Save the Cat mantra. Every reader likes Dale after this; every reader roots for Dale after this.

On the other hand, nothing substantial happens in these first 10 pages beyond Dale’s continual disappointment. The character is likeable, so we may be invested just based on our desire to see his fortunes change… but, this is a script with an earthquake and a nuclear bomb. By page 10 none of these things have made an appearance.

I [personally] enjoyed the slow burn, but I’m not sure other readers would be so generous with this leisurely pace if the script weren’t written by The Nick Santora.

15 out of 20 points.

Part two of this review can be found here.

You can download the script on the site forums.

Advertisements

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 )

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s