Get In, Get Out, Quit Mucking About
“Start in the middle,
go back to the beginning.
The ending will take care of itself.”
-- Harlan Ellison on writing
This is how you start a story:
Mr. Lucky owns the gambling boat Fortuna II, floating just outside US jurisdictional waters.
The mob boss who runs organized crime on shore and his goons come aboard looking for a nebbish who double-crossed them.
Mr. Lucky doesn’t like the mob boss, but he needs to stay on his good side in order to keep the Fortuna II afloat. He doesn’t know the nebbish, he owes the nebbish nothing, and tells the mob boss that he and his goons can search the Fortuna II from stem to stern in order to satisfy themselves that the nebbish isn’t hiding on board.
And as Mr. Lucky says this, he sits behind his desk, and his legs bump into the nebbish who has somehow gotten aboard the Fortuna II and is hiding there…
There was a marching cadence we chanted when I was in the Army:
Get in, get out
Quit [m]ucking about
You’re in the Army now
I've been following the Dust channel on YouTube and have to say I've been enjoying it more than most other sci-fi / fantasy shows on TV.
For one thing, they're short:
Get in, get out, quit mucking about. Not every story can fill an hour long slot...or even a 30 minute one. The Dust shorts vary in length from around 20 minutes down to just two or three.
The short length is perfect for ideas that don't need a lot of development to get their point across. "The Black Hole" is a great example; guy discovers a portal on a piece of paper that he can pass through and his greed quickly leads him to a gruesome but funny karma, all in under three minutes.
Many aren't really stories insofar as there's no real beginning / middle / end. Rather, they're mood pieces and as such work really well in the short-short format.
They're also exceptionally well made. I gather most of them are young film makers trying to show their chops and get hired for bigger projects, and that Dust is very select in what it shows under its banner. The pay off for viewers is quality story telling.
Best of all, they're showing a range of ideas and stories from around the world, not all American based concepts. That variety is refreshing.
I watched three episodes of Electric Dreams, the new Philip K. Dick inspired anthology series on Amazon Prime recently, and won’t be watching any more.
I started out with “The Father Thing” (one of my all time favorite PKD stories) and followed it with “The Impossible Planet” and “The Commuter”.
Man, do they ever miss the point of PKD. Even when his short stories ended badly for his characters, they were rich with wit and irony.
These three eps were drenched with Fun-Away™.
They’re too long and too slow; PKD typically starts his stories in high gear, no slow build, and certainly with a greater sense of urgency than anything in these episodes.
He never hammered home the point of his stories; he didn’t need to, he was too good a writer.
The technical quality is too high, a complaint I have against a lot of shows, not just sci-fi. You actually need tight budgets to bring out the best in most stories, you need to be forced into an economy of ideas and expression. Being able to create vast universes out of CGI & green screen robs the stories of their aforementioned urgency and makes for very disjointed story telling (the recent Star Wars and classic James Bond movies wisely did as much as they could full scale on real sets, giving the actors and crews a much more solid foundation for their work and I think it shows in the final productions).
. . .
Back to Mr. Lucky, also available on Amazon Prime…
The series was created by Blake Edwards and serves as a kind of warm up to his much more successful Peter Gunn series.
Mr. Lucky was a half-hour light-hearted crime / suspense series.
There were a lot of half-hour dramatic series in the 1950s / 1960s / early 1970s: Dragnet is the most famous of these, but there were others such as its spin off Adam-12, The Rifleman, The Twilight Zone, Johnny Staccato, T.H.E. Cat, and many, many others.
They didn’t waste your time.
They introduced their conflict A.S.A.P. and then slammed the gas pedal down hard.
I do not exaggerate when I say they tried to cram a feature film’s worth of story into 24 minutes worth of plot.
And while they can be fairly criticized for relying heavily on stock characters and situations, man, did they ever deliver on story!
If you never heard of Mr. Lucky before seeing the episode described above, you’d know at a glance he was the cool good-bad guy with a heart of gold, the mob boss was a ruthless thug who would kill anybody in his way, and the nebbish was just some poor schmuck in waaay over his head…
…unless Mr. Lucky saved him.
And you knew of course Mr. Lucky would do just that.
The fun would be in getting there,
Mr. Lucky the series started strong but faded fast.
Edwards’ premise (they grafted on the title of an earlier Cary Grant feature with a similar concept) featured the adventures of professional gambler Mr. Lucky (John Vivyan [who?]) and his partner / right-hand man Armando (Ross Martin [oh, yeah, Artemus Gordon!]) as they operated the wholly illegal floating casino Fortuna II.
The pilot episode reflected Edwards’ original intent, a much more open and adventurous series. (The pilot prefigures a lot of Mission: Impossible and I’m convinced 007 scripter Richard Maibaum and the writing staff of Get Smart were fans of the show because both lifted several ideas from the pilot and subsequent series.) Mr. Lucky and Armando were free to travel, to go to different place, encounter different types of characters.
But by the second episode they had acquired the Fortuna II, and by episode six they had run out of every shipboard story they could think of (and truth be told, they all shared the same basic plot: Somebody or something was hiding aboard the boat), forcing the series to go ashore.
At that point it soon became rather unfocused.
They eventually tried to clean up Mr. Lucky’s act by having him become a restaurateur on shore, but by then the sponsors soured on the show.
Some series are open for literally hundreds of ideas, others for just a handful.
Mr. Lucky was one of the latter.
But those first six episodes were glorious…
(What kept Mr. Lucky alive long after the series’ cancellation was Henry Mancini’s music and the two soundtrack LPs they released. The LPs were popular hits for years after the show, staying in print and on sale for the better part of the 1960s. What people remember of the show is the cat icon and the music.)