Genre: Drama
Premise: (from Black List) Based on a true story, Dale Julin (a low-level Fresno affiliate morning show host) stumbles upon the biggest story of his life – and though he has reached the midpoint of his career without ever being a “real journalist” – risks his safety and his marriage to uncover the truth that a small Atomic bomb exploded in Central Valley California during the Korean War – a secret that had been hidden for decades.
About: I decided to go BACK to the Black List for today’s script. “Time and Temperature” finished on the low end of the list with 7 votes. The writer, Nick Santora, is a big deal in the TV world. He’s written for The Sopranos, Law & Order, Prison Break, and most recently created the CBS show, Scorpion. Santora did something I’ve claimed on this site is impossible. He won a screenplay contest (the New York International Film Festival Screenplay Contest) with his FIRST screenplay. Off that win, he was hired to write an episode of The Sopranos. Please don’t throw your laptops against the wall. Time and Temperature will be Santora’s directing debut. Ivan Reitman is producing the film.
Writer: Nick Santora
Details: 120 pages (5/31/13 draft)

SteveCarellFoxcatcherPhotoCallSteve Carrell for Dale?

On Monday we were talking about what makes an idea big enough to be a movie. In this day and age, unless you’re specifically aiming for the indie market and an Itunes release, you have to think big. And when I read the premise for this on the Black List, all I could think was, that doesn’t sound big enough to be a movie.

First of all, you have the word “small” in your logline. That’s not a good word to have in any logline. Movies are supposed to be big. The events that happen within them need to feel huge (unless you’re going for that indie market). Who cares about a “small atomic bomb?” It sounds insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

Tack onto that the Korean War. The Korean War?? The Korean War is like the forgotten stepchild of the Vietnam War. Nobody remembers the Korean War. Already this is looking bad. I mean, if you told me this was about a Japanese-American journalist in 1945 who found out that the U.S. was going to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima 2 days ahead of time and he had to decide whether to report about it or not… now you have yourselves a story. A mini-atomic bomb that didn’t even get dropped on anyone 60 years ago? Is that really a movie? I pray it is.  Or else these are going to be a looooong 120 pages.

Time and Temperature is set in 1989 and focuses on local news show host Dale Julin. Dale’s specialty is doing those fluff-pieces like testing out the local Clown School. Which, in a way, is appropriate, since Dale’s career so far can be described as one giant pie in the face. He’s 44 years old, the age most people settle down into who they are. But Dale’s just not satisfied. He wants something more.

That opportunity presents itself when he takes his wife and two daughters to see his dad at the Travis Air Force base, where Dale grew up. His dad was a war hero, which is like adding flashing lights to Dale’s failures. While home, he learns that an old friend’s daughter just died of a rare form of cancer. But the kicker is that the man’s niece died from the same type of cancer two years ago.

His journalistic instincts kicking in, Dale starts asking around, and learns that dozens of people on the base have gotten cancer over the years. And it all came after a 1950 B-2 Bomber, which was headed to Korea to drop bombs, crashed on take-off. Dale gets the idea that this plane was carrying something with more kick than your average bomb, and he wants to prove it.

So he concocts a pretend reason to interview everyone on the base (a birthday bit for his dad) and just keeps digging. Like any good investigation story, there are some false leads, some interesting twists, and a lot of hardship, such as Dale losing touch with his family along the way. But he continues to hold onto the idea that it’s true, and that the government has been covering it up for 40 years.

It turns out there’s more to this story than just the bomb, and it’s something I wish they would’ve included in the logline (although that logline needs a meat cleaver chopping as it is). It’s not just the bomb that’s the issue. It’s that the bomb’s detonation has caused many people living on Travis Base to contract cancer.

In that sense, it’s kind of like Erin Brockovich, and it makes the story better because nobody gives a shit if a bomb blew up 60 years ago. But if people are still suffering NOW because of this? If it’s affecting the PRESENT? Now you have a story. And that’s something I wish Time and Temperature had hit on more. Because in the end, your story always has to deal with the now. Even the great The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (the book), about a 50 year old missing girl case, ended its story here, in the now, with its main characters in trouble.

All in all, Time and Temperature was a strange read. The story doesn’t get started (Dale first finds out about the cancer) until page 38. Before that, I had no idea where it was going. All we needed were a few scenes to establish that Dale was unhappy and unappreciated at his job, and we could’ve headed off to the Air Force Base. Instead, we have way too many scenes at work covering the same thing and then him going up to a Giants game where an earthquake occurs (which he reports on). And while it was a good scene, it had me scratching my head. Why are we here? Where is this script going?

This is something we’re told over and over again but we writers are so freaking stubborn, we continue to ignore it. We fall in love with our scenes so much that we will add 5 pages of prep, 8 pages for the scene, and 5 pages of transition back to the original story JUST SO WE CAN GET THAT SCENE IN. That’s 18 pages you just wrote so you could get a single scene in. No wonder this script clocks in at 120 pages. Screenwriting is about eliminating anything that doesn’t keep the story moving forward.  A trip to a Giants game moved this sideways.

But once we got to the actual investigation, the script picked up. And I started to understand Santora’s vision better. He was going for something different, a little quirkier than your average investigation story. For example, in one scene, when he’s rushing to interview a top Air Force general, Dale forgets his bag of clothes. Which is really bad because he’s still dressed in a Santa Clause suit from a just-finished news bit.  I can already imagine the shot of that interview in the trailer.

Then there’s another scenario where he rendezvous with a mysterious figure in an abandoned parking lot. It’s very film noir. Unfortunately, it was Dale’s turn with the baby that day, so he’s actually wearing a baby bjorn, with a baby in it. “Is that a… baby bjorn?” the shadowy figures asks. The scene ends on the perfect note too, when the man, Peters, warns him about what’s coming…

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 8.47.40 PM

The Black List loves this kind of stuff, where you’re riding the line between drama and humor. If you want to end up on the list, an unpredictable balance between these two will help.

Santora also does a good job with our hero, Dale. I think it’s always important to give your characters a “thing.” It doesn’t have to be a flaw, but there should be something specific that defines them. Dale is defined as “the person everyone forgets.” That point is hit on over and over again. And it’s the reason Dale’s so driven. He wants to be remembered for something. When you don’t define your characters with that specific trait, that’s when you’ll get the note from readers: “I never got a sense of that character.”

This just happened to me in a consult script I was reading. The main character was defined, but the three other family members were not, and it was very frustrating because despite each of them having a lot of screen time, I had to profess to the writer that I didn’t really know any of them.

Anyway, Time and Temperature was an up and down experience that was more good than bad. If Santora has some directing talent, he very well could turn this into a movie to watch for. It has just enough of a unique voice to distinguish it from all the other stuff out there.

[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned 1: Hurt other people with your hero’s actions, making it tougher for your hero to keep going. Dale’s Dad informs Dale that because of his snooping around the base, he’s about to be kicked out of his home. Now Dale’s decision to move forward is much tougher, as it’s not just hurting himself. It’s hurting someone he loves.

What I learned 2: Screen time does not define characters for an audience. You can’t just put a character in a movie for 70 minutes and assume that because they’re in it for so long, the audience will just “get” them. It’s up to you to clarify who your character is to the audience. Santora must’ve hit on the fact that Nick was a forgotten man a dozen times (when he walked into a library he was in the day before, the librarian couldn’t remember his face). So decide what that thing is that defines your character and then hit on it repeatedly through action and dialogue.

  • filmklassik

    Lotta good insights, Carson, like always, but regarding your declaration that —

    “Movies are supposed to be big. The events that happen within them need to feel huge…”

    — you’ve been hammering this same point home for at least a year now, maybe longer, but are you sure this is really the case?? Does this maxim apply equally to all genres? For example, are comedies supposed to be big? My gut tells me no. In fact most of them aren’t. (Even BIG wasn’t particularly big — and that one’s being remade next year, God only knows why).

    Does it apply to horror? Was THE CONJURING an unusually “big” movie? Only at the box office. And the few westerns that have sold in the last two years haven’t been particularly big either. Westerns, almost by definition, are relatively small in scale.

    And a straight up dramatic screenplay — something like AMERICAN BEAUTY, for example (assuming such a movie could even get sold today) — would likely be modest in scale, too.

    So as far as I can tell, your “Movies are supposed to be big” rule applies mainly to non-comedy, non-horror, non-western genre movies.

    So what are we left with then? I think we’re talking mainly about suspense and science fiction now, right?

    Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    • bruckey

      If we scriptshadower’s live to be as old as Dale’s dad then we won’t recognize the cinema of today in a short time.
      It’s India not Indiana and Brazil over Boston that will decide more and more what we see.
      As Lucas and Spielberg said a year ago the cinema’s may become like broadway. We’ll pay for something big that has to be seen on the big screen (Gravity, Life of Pi) while everything else is in a no man’s land.

      • klmn

        I’ll decide what I see. If there’s nothing current that appeals to me, I’ll or watch some older movie or do something else.

    • ChadStuart

      No, not all of those movies are “big”, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a big hook or a high concept. We’ll use your example of “big”. If it was about a childlike adult who got a job at a toy company and rose through the ranks because of his immaturity, it’s a small premise. But, if that “childlike adult” is actually a child who was magically transformed into an adult, then you have a big, high concept.

      Big doesn’t have to mean “Transformers” or “The Avengers”. Big can mean many things.

      But, you’re also right about “The Conjuring”. What made that movie the success it was while something like “Horns” is available on iTunes before its theatrical release? “The Conjuring” had no major stars, and “Horns” has Harry Potter and is based on a book by Stephen King’s son. Which sounds better on paper to you?

      Many people in the industry don’t like to admit it, but some movies can still be sold on simply being a damn good movie. “The Conjuring” had great test scores and they started the hype machine rolling on that.It was originally going to have a low key release, but got a big summer slot because it was a good, scary movie.

      I don’t know, maybe the “based on a true story” aspect of “The Conjuring” is a bigger hook than you’d think. But, mostly it was a good movie. Same goes for “American Beauty”. It had semi-big stars, but played the festival circuit and was well reviewed. Therefore, more discriminating audiences took a chance on it. That’s still possible today.

    • Eric

      The concepts of The Equalizer and A Walk Among the Tombstones aren’t especially big either. Big can certainly help, but it’s not enough on its own. For instance,

      “Aliens invade planet Earth.”

      Sure that’s big. But it’s also so overused that it’s boring until you apply some other idea or quality to it.

      “An officer finds himself caught in a time loop in a war with an alien race.”

      Better. The goal isn’t big, it’s INTERESTING. And what makes a concept interesting? Well…

  • ChadStuart

    “…unless you’re specifically aiming for the indie market and an Itunes release…”

    And there’s nothing wrong with that. Those writers still get paid and, usually, their WGA card.

    • Randy Williams

      The indie, “CHEF” which script, Carson reviewed , was currently #1 on the Itunes rental list the last time I looked, beating out some mighty big competition.

      • Casper Chris

        The indie, “CHEF” which script, Carson , was currently #1 on the Itunes rental list the last time I looked, beating out all some mighty big competition.

        What?

  • Logline_Villain

    WIL #2: “So decide what that thing is that defines your character and then hit on it repeatedly through action and dialogue.”

    I’m not sold that the “Caveman with a Club” approach is typically effective when it comes to the “thing” – either the writer makes the “thing” clear enough early on and we remember it, so that the writer’s reminders (hopefully something organic and crucial to the plot) register later on… or we keep getting hit over the head and end up feeling like the writer regards us as, well, stupid.

    A related problem occurs when a writer spends 8 pages instead of 2 at the outset being redundant about the “thing” instead of getting the story moving.

    Like most “things” that comprise a great script, there’s a fine line to walk on this one…

    • Eric

      I think the thing to remember is the character’s “thing” should have plot relevance. It needs a reason to exist in the first place. If it does, then it’s recurrence will naturally result from the plot’s development. If your developing plot doesn’t take advantage of the character’s traits, then they don’t have “a thing”, they have “some thing”.

      As in, some thing that doesn’t really matter at all.

  • Bifferspice

    “Screenwriting is about eliminating anything that doesn’t keep the story
    moving forward. A trip to a Giants game moved this sideways.”

    i don’t know. the opening is not just about bringing us the story, but introducing the character too. the opening god knows how many minutes of raiders of the lost ark isn’t about the ark at all. it’s indy pursuing some object that then doesn’t matter a bit for the rest of the film. but it’s a perfect opening because we get everything indy is about, what he values, how he goes about his daring job, his rivalry with the antagonist (belloq?) and about him then back in his everyday life, his frustrations, etc. nothing to do with the ark or the point of the story at all. i haven’t read this script, but i would imagine that’s what he wanted to do with the first 18 pages of this script. you don’t always have to get with the story straight away.

    • pmlove

      Whilst I agree, I think Carson is referring to repeated scenes. Ie, what Raiders doesn’t need, is Indy going off on another mini-adventure prior to finding out about the main plot line.

    • walker

      This criticism by Carson brings up an interesting point. If the script is about the protagonist uncovering the conspiracy at the airbase, then the baseball game is an extraneous set piece. But if the script is about the protagonist breaking free from the unsatisfying situation he has settled for in his life, then the scene is integral. It gives him a chance to prove that he can report on breaking news and he does so brilliantly only to have the opportunity snuffed out by his superiors. BTW that scene, an earthquake at the beginning of a World Series game, also happened in real life (1989, Oakland vs. SF) and this is based on a true story.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/pub/brett-martin/52/702/72 ElectricDreamer

    “What I learned 1: Hurt other people with your hero’s actions, making it
    tougher for your hero to keep going. Dale’s Dad informs Dale that
    because of his snooping around the base, he’s about to be kicked out of
    his home. Now Dale’s decision to move forward is much tougher, as it’s
    not just hurting himself. It’s hurting someone he loves.”

    This ties into my fave Act Two philosophy: Complicating the Hero’s Goal.
    Your Hero must make DECISIONS based on a DILEMMA they face.
    That conscious decision has CONSEQUENCES that generate CONFLICT now.

    Act Two is the toughest on writers. So many slick first acts meander into oblivion.
    If your hero struggles with his Act Two choices, we’ll want to see how he handles his mess.

    • mulesandmud

      This DCG idea points to the reason that so many great stories end with a different goal than they begin with, or with a dramatically new perspective on that goal.

      It means that the hero’s actions are changing things, revealing things, adding new obstacles and/or removing old ones that alter the path. It means the story is developing, and doing so specifically because of the hero.

      Heroes need agency, even in stories where the quest turns out to be futile or beyond the hero’s control, as in David Fincher’s films. Avoid the feeling that your story is simply a roller coaster that your hero rides to the end.

  • Tschwenn

    I read this earlier this year, and had many of the same thoughts. It did take a long time to get going, but I found it a worthwhile trip. The writer gives us a lot of reasons to keep rooting for Dale (relationship with the father, money troubles with his wife). The ending did seem like it may not have been ‘enough’ – the script doesn’t hit hard enough on several angles: the conspiracy, the fact that people may still be sick, and how pervasive this type of mistake was (there was a recent book out about mistakes made with atomic weapons here on US soil).

  • Linkthis83

    “Who cares about a “small atomic bomb?””

    I do. I would make the case that an atom bomb of any size is HUGE. Especially one that may have detonated in the United States.

    Had this been a normal atomic bomb, it wouldn’t be a secret and this story wouldn’t exist to be told. (although, I’m not an expert so maybe it should be a medium size bomb ;)

    For me, the premise is great enough hook to follow this guy’s journey. I think learning that there’s more to this story, like with the rare cancer, is one of those rewards you get for watching/reading it. And one of those necessary story occurrences to up the stakes and challenge the resolve of the protagonist.

    At first, this story is for himself, but as he learns more, then it becomes not just about him, but about the people that have been affected by this event. Thus it changes from about personal gain/glory to possibly personal cost.

    I’d see this movie.

    • klmn

      I was curious about the facts in this case, so I did some googling. Officially, the physics package of the bomb – the part that contains the fissionable material – was on a different plane.

      So either there was a cover-up and the official story was false, or the screenwriter embellished the facts.

      Is the story true or just made up? I couldn’t find any substantiation in my time on the web.

      I’m not ready to buy into this story. The producers need to come up with something more to sell me a ticket.

      • klmn

        I did some more web searches and I can find no reports of a cancer cluster on the base. 180 people were killed or wounded from the explosion of the chemical explosives in the bomb.

        Details on the crash here:

        http://www.check-six.com/Crash_Sites/Travis_B-29_crash_site.htm

        Details on the bomb:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_4_nuclear_bomb

        …In addition to being easier to manufacture, the Mark 4 introduced the concept of in flight insertion or IFI, a weapons safety concept which was used for a number of years. An IFI bomb has either manual or mechanical assembly which keeps the nuclear core stored outside the bomb until close to the point that it may be dropped. To arm the bomb, the fissile nuclear materials are inserted into the bomb core through a removable segment of the explosive lens assembly, which is then replaced and the weapon closed and armed…

        I’d say that “based on a true story” is stretching the truth.

        • Bifferspice

          surely “a true story” would be stretching the truth. “based on a true story” implies taking a situation as a base point and then changing the details to make it more dramatic?

    • Kirk Diggler

      “Who cares about a “small atomic bomb?””

      Anyone unlucky enough to be within it’s vicinity.

      As screenwriters, I guess we should only care about atomic bombs that, can like, destroy the world, man.

    • Citizen M

      This was an old-fashioned 1950s city-killer of an atom bomb, not a mini-nuke as carson said.

      They consisted of a plutonium core (the capsule) surrounded by a thick shell of U-238 (i.e. depleted uranium) (the tamper), in turn surrounded by a shit-ton of TNT. When the TNT goes off, it compresses the uranium shell, which in turn compresses the plutonium, which undergoes a chain reaction. The uranium provides momentum to contain the fission so more plutonium is used up, and reflects neutrons, increasing the fission. Some uranium may fission, I don’t know.

      The bomb is transported with the plutonium capsule removed. It is only added at the last possible moment before the bomb is deployed. So the bomb cannot go off in a chain reaction, even though the TNT explodes.

      What the TNT explosion does is compress the uranium shell, maybe generating some nuclear activity, I don’t know, but then vaporizing it and spreading it as radioactive fragments and dust. i.e. they had a bloody great dirty bomb go off.

      The US has always maintained that depleted uranium is safe to use. It is used in armor-piercing shells, and hundreds of kilograms of it was used in Iraq during Desert Storm etc. The Iraqis blame it for a surge of birth defects noted in recent years. The US denies responsibility. But note in the script the words “According to Dr. Bruce Lubert of the University of Colorado – an expert in atomic and nuclear weaponry, U238, can become quite dangerous when exposed to high temperatures. A massive fireball kind of fits that bill…” An armor-piercing shell experiences high temperatures and vaporizes into dust on impact. Same thing. Which is why many people believe the US is deeply at fault using this type of ammunition.

  • walker

    I enjoyed Time and Temperature and thought it was it its own unassuming way one of the best scripts on the 2013 BL.

  • Tailmonsterfriend

    Funny enough, I read this script at my local tattoo shop while my wife was getting a portrait of Keith Richards on her arm. What does this have to do with T&T? Nothing. And it’s not really funny. But the tattoo turned out pretty amazing, and the script was an interesting read.

    There were a lot of things I liked about TIME AND TEMPERATURE, one of which was that Dale was a super, SUPER likable character, and it never felt cheap how Santora made him so. I think that’s why the Giants game scene was there: Dale gets lifted up, he’s rocking this emergency broadcast, he’s awesome, it’s an emotional high point for him, and BOOM – right into one of the script’s lowest points for Dale. There were a few scenes like that before (nudge Dale into a high, then tear him down), but this one sealed the deal: after the Giants game, we can’t help but be on Team Dale for the rest of the script.

    I think this also shows the problem with a lot of “save the cat” moments you see in amateur scripts. They’re one note; either the protagonist does something great, or something bad happens to the protagonist to telegraph the fact that he’s the underdog. Boring. If you really want to get people to like your protagonist, you gotta be like Lucy and the football.

    For those living under a rock, there’s a running joke in Peanuts where Lucy holds a football for Charlie Brown to kick. Every time, Charlie will run up to kick the ball, and at the last second, Lucy will yank the ball away and Charlie falls flat on his back. If we had just seen Charlie fall on his back, we probably still would have felt sorry for him, but it wouldn’t have been especially interesting to watch. But the fact that Charlie had such high hopes (“This time I’m gonna kick the ball for sure!”) only to have them dashed so cruelly is what makes the joke.

    So in TIME AND TEMPERATURE, it’s the same thing. Every setback for Dale is preceded by a false promise of success. When Dale fails, we feel his disappointment, we’re right there with him.

    What I learned: Whenever you have something bad happen to your protagonist, make sure that at first it looks like something really good is going to happen to him before you turn the tables.

    • pmlove

      We don’t get many rom-coms/romantic dramas on AOW but I think this is the key note for most of the ones we’ve seen (Introvert’s Playlist, Cloud Factory come to mind). As soon as there is an emotional high, the rug needs to come out from under the character. A few too many consecutive highs in those scripts.

      That’s what Breaking the Chain did well, as soon as you were up, you were down.

  • Bifferspice

    well i haven’t read the script, but it says he reports on it. so we see a reporter having to shift from relaxing to suddenly getting a story, and seeing how his character reacts to it. it’s the reporter’s equivalent of indy’s quest for the gold thingumybob. it clearly doesn’t tell us nothing, not if it’s done right.

  • Howie428

    I’ve just taken a look at this script and 26 pages in, I’m bewildered by it. As far as I can see it’s a weak rehash of the opening of Bruce Almighty.

    A big point is being made about how this guy’s problem is that he’s not memorable, but for me I just don’t buy it. He’s doing quite memorable things, but we’re just told he goes unnoticed, even though he does these things on TV! We’re also expected to feel sorry for this poor guy, with a beautiful caring pregnant wife, a cute toddler, nice house and car, because he has to get up early in the morning and they won’t let him be the main anchor. The inhumanity of it…

    Add to that the fact that this opens with the well-worn “getting up in the morning” cliché, interspersed with some voicy narration.

    Then I get to page 26 and it jumps three years for no meaningful reason. Since the story hasn’t begun yet, and the three year jump proves that what came before didn’t amount to anything, why not just start at this point?

    Unfortunately, I don’t have time to get to the good bits of this and so I’ll just have to take other peoples’ word for it that there are any.

    • Bifferspice

      “the three year jump proves that what came before didn’t amount to anything”

      that’s a strange conclusion to make

      • Howie428

        Not really. I think that whenever you have a substantial time jump in a script it always makes sense to consider the implications of it for your story.

        They often mark breakpoints, and it’s fair to ask whether the story bridges the gap, or whether you’ve landed on an episodic structure. If the story plays on over the jump, or if the episodes are holding their own weight in the overall story, then that’s fine.

        In this case there are two episodes that form the first act. The first 12 pages are an unremarkable day in the life of Dale. The second episode is his failed audition and the earthquake sequence. Then we get to the three year jump and for me that makes the previous two episodes feel like backstory.

        That is exaggerated by the way in which the core story begins on pages 26-30, which I’ve now looked at. Here it’s quickly established who Dale is, and that he’s a nobody. Also, we get the first tragic hints of the investigation to come.

        Since there’s a good case for keeping an abbreviated version of the earthquake material in, I suspect that I’d have considered having our first visit to the base fall before it. The hints of tragedy would still play fine. Using his background to help us get to know Dale makes sense. And once we’ve been to the base there’s no doubt that the core story has begun.

        • Bifferspice

          they’re all reasonable points and questions. they don’t just say “a = b”. i’m not saying it’s not a problem in this case – i haven’t yet read this script. but it isn’t automatically a fail either, and the person reading seemed to assume it was, and stopped reading. i think that’s a strange conclusion.

  • fragglewriter

    Great What I Learn Tip. #1 is definitely something that I need to incorporate as it should be going good for the protag, but upset what is close to them.