Time and Temperature (2)

san-francisco-oakland-earthquake-1989-hero-HThe first part of this review of 2013 Black List script Time and Temperature, by author Nick Santora, can be found here.

On to questions 3-5.

3. Does the structure of the story have (a) a suitable number of reveals (b) an engine that fits its protagonist (c) a pinch point the engine funnels toward and (d) a thematic underpinning which, by Fade Out, explains why THIS engine and THIS protagonist were the subject of THIS story. (parts a and d worth 10 points, parts b and c worth 5)

Part A) To me, this script brings up an interesting question about reveals… What are we critics permitted to count [or not count] as a reveal? Is it necessary for an author to confine herself to plot points?

A version of this issue surfaced back when I reviewed Calvary. That script’s author chose subtext and theme as the topography on which to build his set-ups and pay-offs. Today’s script [we will see] uses its engine. Is that permissible?  If something works it can’t be wrong just because it doesn’t conform to preferred story architecture, can it? A story that works is the only objective.

In Time and Temperature, Dale does the mental legwork necessary to arrive at the idea that a nuclear bomb went off in the US back in 1950. In the first part of the script [pgs 26 to 50] Dale actively matches Travis Air Force Base facts to the best possible explanation of those facts. As stated, this gets the reader to around page 50.  The rest of the reveals which pertain to the nuclear cover-up passively fall into Dale’s lap by way of informants. So, if you were judging this script on how likely these nuclear cover-up reveals would impact a reader, you might incline toward a lower score.

Honestly, though, I don’t think there ever was much doubt Dale would find the evidence needed to prove some sort of nuclear explosion occurred. Instead, I believe the script makes you wonder about two other things:

1. Will Dale stop being invisible to the people in his world?
2. How much is Dale prepared to lose in order to prove his hypothesis?

I feel comfortable saying the prior review established that the author does an admirable job setting up and revealing question one. [We’ll discuss the efficacy of the final reveal about question one when we get to theme.]

Question two will need to be answered by examples from the script. The first of these comes from pages 58-59:

Int./Ext. Roy’s Van – NIGHT. Pass a sign: FRESNO – 120 MILES.
In the van: Roy sleeps, Dale at the wheel.

Int./Ext. Roy’s Van – DAY. Pass a sign: TRAVIS AFB/FAIRFIELD –
45 miles. In the van: Dale sleeps, Roy at the wheel.

Int./Ext. Roy’s Van – NIGHT. Pass a sign: FRESNO – 60 miles.
In the van: Roy sleeps, Dale at the wheel – also asleep.

The van drifts from frame – Screech! – then jerks back into
frame. They both bolt awake, Roy bracing himself, terrified.

DALE
(covering, groggy)
It’s cool… possum.

Dale in Edit Bay – Clock: 5:13 AM. Dale’s a zombie. He prints
away. The printer OVERFLOWS. Roy enters, also exhausted.

From this passage we see that Dale’s pursuit of his hypothesis requires him to work, literally, around the clock. He is so sleep-deprived, he has even become dangerous behind the wheel. The nuclear story isn’t just a piece of journalism to Dale, it has become his obsession.

The sleepless meme gets repeated several times. From page 58:

ROY
Cut. You got a Samsonite set under
your eyes, Chief. You look like a
basset hound holding a dachsund.

As the MAKE-UP LADY fusses with the bags under Dale’s eyes…

MAKE-UP LADY
Jesus, hun, you gettin’ your 8 hours?

Dale would laugh at the question except he’s too damn tired.

Investigating the story costs Dale quite a bit physically– he’s tired all the time. The next example reiterates this at the same time it also shows what it costs Dale emotionally. Basically, it endangers his relationship with his wife. From page 61:

PATTI
Daisy can’t understand a fuckin’ word I’m
saying. And if you were smart, you’d
watch what you’re saying right now.

DALE
What does that mean?

PATTI
It means I’ve been raising these kids
on my own for months now–

DALE
Let’s not get dramatic–

PATTI
–19 hours. Eight here on Monday,
slept at work Tuesday, six hours
Wednesday, back at Travis Thursday and
five hours today. 19 god damn hours
you’ve been here all week. And it’s
been like this for months–

Dale course corrects with Patti [he gives her a weekend off from “mom duty”], and then reaches the next stage in the “how much is he willing to lose” sweepstakes when his father pays him an unwanted visit. From page 76:

DON (CONT’D)
There’s talk of taking me off Alumni
Relations.

DALE
What? Why?

DON
Seems they don’t appreciate my own son
trying to slander them in the press.
Air Force is funny that way. I lose my
job, I gotta leave the base–

DALE
–Dad, I’m sorry–

DON
I mean, what the hell do you have?
Other than a theory? How many people
have you spoken to?

DALE
Fair amount.

DON
Anyone confirm your hypothesis?

DALE
No.

DON
You have any hard evidence?

DALE
No.

DON
Well at least I won’t lose my home
over nothing.

DALE
Dad, I wasn’t trying to hurt you. Or
the base. Travis was my home too–

DON
–Was your home. It is my life. The
name Julin means something at Travis.
No thanks to you–

Dale pushes through his physical limits, through Patti’s emotional limits, and does not hit his wall [or his “All Is Lost” moment] until his father batters him with more disapproval. Only then does he:

DALE
All I’ve done is hurt him… he’s
embarrassed because of me… he
embarrassed of me.

He drops the folder he just got from Peters in the garbage,
exits. Patti watches him go, heart breaking for her husband.

quit.

Of course, scripts don’t end on page 75, so Dale eventually gets over his father’s disappointment [with a little help from his friends—Patti and Roy] and faces his final test on page 85:

Roy drives off. Dale moves to his car, then — BAM! He’s
clocked from behind by an unseen assailant. He falls to the
ground, is instantly kicked in the stomach many times. Dale
curls up. The attack is fast, efficient. It ends. Dale coughs
for breath. In front of him are two shoes, all he can see…

VOICE (FROM ABOVE DALE)
If you weren’t Don Julin’s son, this
would be worse. Keep it up, it will be
worse.

Since Dale takes this beating and continues to investigate the 1950 plane crash, I submit the script has adequately set-up and revealed how much Dale is willing to lose to prove his theory. He will pursue the nuclear explosion story until it takes everything from him.

The two questions I posed at the beginning of this discussion are adequately addressed by the script. However, I do think some penalty necessary for the reliance on informants to prove there was a nuclear explosion on Travis Air Force Base in 1950.

7 out of 10 points.

Part B) Dale’s engine is his need to be visible to the people in his world. This need also equates, on a filial level with a desire to earn his father’s approval. As discussed in the opening paragraphs of this review, I also believe the author has designed his script so that resolving Dale’s need acts as the spine which supports this entire story. (1)

We do not continue to read Time and Temperature because we want to find out if Dale can get the government to admit to their cover up, we continue to read to see if Dale will ever make himself visible to the people in his world, if we will ever gain his father’s approval.

A time and temperature guy with unrequited dreams of being an investigative reporter, seem like perfect engine to protagonist matching to me.

Part C) I define the pinch point as taking place on page 79:

ROY
No. This isn’t fair. You think I was
happy sitting at home getting high all
night, watching porn and Alf reruns?
Only a lot of the time. But then you
asked me to be part of something
important – for the first time someone
asked for my help – someone thought I
was more than a camera monkey. I
haven’t gotten stoned in months
because I wanted to do a good job for
you. And for myself. You can’t just
take it away from me now…
(throws a file at Dale)
Especially since I’ve been doin’ all
the damn work lately.

From this point in the script on, the story picks up steam until Fade Out.

I believe Roy’s line functions well as a pinch point because it exemplifies an important point about Dale, FOR DALE. Dale has just had it emphatically pointed out to him that his SUMA is helping others. THIS is the thing that makes him visible.

5 out of 5 points.

Part D) With the preceding pinch point sentences as bridge, I can now posit that the theme of Time and Temperature is:

Helping others causes us to matter in our world.

Other than with Roy, I believe this theme gets supported once more [for sure, we’ll discuss a possible second appearance a little later on]. From page 117:

TEDDY (CONT’D)
It had been driving me crazy since we
sat in that bar – that I couldn’t
place you – but then I remembered when
all the shop kids accidentally burned
down the trade school garage. Everyone
made fun of us dummies… but you
started a fund raiser, right? So we
could rebuild, still graduate on time?

DALE
Yeah. That was me.

TEDDY
Yeah. I remember you now, Dale. You’re
the guy who helps people.

A definitive example of explicit theme statement if ever there was one. However, the only person’s opinion that actually matters to Dale is his father’s. Does his pursuit of the truth [in order to help people] make Dale visible to Don? From page 116:

DALE
Thanks. For sending the crew list. It
broke it all open for me.

DON
No big deal. You were working hard on
this thing – I respect that …
(looks Don in the eyes)
I respect the hell outta you.
Dale is floored by the ultimate compliment Don Julin could
give. He’s waited his whole life to hear this.

DALE
Thank you, Dad.

DON
(hard to say)
Just because I sometimes didn’t…
understand you… doesn’t mean I
didn’t… I’m very proud of you.

For me, this resolution is slightly ambiguous. I’m not sure Don changes his opinion of his son because he saw that his son’s journalistic work would actually help people. Instead, he seems to change his opinion because, at the same time Dale films his story, he also films an ode to his father. It is after Don watches this ode that his opinion changes.

This does not demonstrate thematic completeness. Don should have changed his opinion because he saw that Dale was right, people were hurt, the Air Force was wrong, and amends should be made. He should change his opinion of Dale because he sees that his opinion of Dale was mistaken.

6 out of 10 points.

4. Is there (a) anything unique in the story being told or (b) in the writing itself? (each part worth 5 points)

Part A) Well, this is a GREAT story. I don’t know how Mr. Santora obtained the rights, but this piece of history SCREAMS film. I congratulate Mr. Santora for recognizing how ripe the material was for adaptation, and then turning in a very competent draft.

5 out of 5 points.

Part B) The writing is [as mentioned in the previous sentence] very competent. My reading momentum was not enflamed by Mr. Santora’s skills, but it was never doused by any deficiencies either.

4 out of 5 points.

5. Are we inspired, for however brief a time, to live in harmony with the theme of the script? (10 points)

The theme about helping people is easy to endorse. I love humanity affirming themes like this one, and I’m not about to stop liking them today.

On the other hand, I think there is a surface theme at play in this script which also needs to be addressed. It gets completed on page 119 when Dale discovers:

DALE (READING ALOUD)
Mr. Julin, it is our pleasure to
inform you that you have won this
year’s Peabody Award for journalistic
excellence…

Dale has not only broken an enormous story about government irresponsibility, he has also been RECOGNIZED by the people in his world. It’s not very hard to conclude the author wants us to believe you should:

Follow your dreams, no matter the personal cost.

And that is a theme I CAN’T endorse. I dislike it [immensely] when rich people or already successful people play around with this idea. It is very easy [from the security of wealth and success] to tell a story about the righteous power of following one’s dreams. Of course it makes sense in the wealthy successful context to conclude following one’s dreams is ALWAYS the correct course. In your context, it lead you to your wealth and success, right?

Who knows, maybe it did, maybe it didn’t.

But, suppose Dale’s nuclear hunch had turned out to be wrong… and he still had done everything he does in this script. Would you consider that version of Dale a hero? Someone worth writing a movie about?

A guy who ignores his wife and children, loses his house, and estranges himself from his father, does not seem like suitable movie material… to me. It TURNS OUT Dale is suitable movie material because his hunch was correct.

One’s hunches are not always correct. [Similarly, hypothetical artistic masterpieces are very often actual garbage.]

I encourage everyone to follow their dreams, don’t misinterpret my remarks. I’m just saying follow your dreams AT THE SAME TIME you monitor their costs.

5 out of 10 points.

Total Score: 77

Footnotes:

1. Reading Calvary so close to Time and Temperature has inspired me. They’ve given me an interesting idea about story architecture which I’ll sum up into article form sometime soon.

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