Sunday Story Break — Unmasking Banksy

MARCH 13TH, 2016 — POST 069

This is the 3rd in a series in which I take some piece of culture and spin it out into an idea for a movie

If you hadn’t been following the news, there’s a good chance the world at large now knows Banksy’s true identity. An investigation spanning years has cross-referenced locations of Banksy works with the residences of a 42-year-old from Bristol called Robin Gunningham. Whilst Gunningham hasn’t made any public statements in confirmation or denial of this discovery, certain outlets are so confident in these findings they’re publically ruminating on the consequences — like the price of Banksy’s works. In either case, whether correct or not, there’s already a screenplay being written, and possibly even more, that could form a cinematic dramatisation in the coming years. What could that screnplay look like?

What it shouldn’t be

I definitely don’t want to see another “genius with a secret” biopic. This movie would have a lot of scenes in which people are publically praising Banksy’s work whilst the character of Robin would be a shrinking violet. The necessary inclusion of famous Banksy pieces would be handled with a cringe-inducing voice that would bake in his future influence. Our antagonist would invariably be someone on the investigation, trying to bring down Banksy, our precious flower, who’d be drawn with a similar brush as a Disney villain. There’s be a scene late in the second act where maybe one of the villain’s collegue, or perhaps love interest, says something like “Why can’t you be happy there’s magic in this world? Why do you want to expose a wizard as a joke-shop magician?” or something equally as trite. There are so many bad ways to make this story that it’s disheartening to consider them all.

What it should be

The tighter the time frame, the sweeter the story, at least as far as real-world/biography movies are concerned. The suggestion that Banksy might be Robin Gunningham has gone on for almost a decade now. Already, that’s too long. This movie will need focus. Two things would give this movie focus: the success of Dismaland and the implementation of the geographical profiling to assist the “investigation”. Like a House of Cards situation, the bigger a target a protagonist becomes, the more precarious his position. Dismaland was a big deal, not only for its statement, but its inclusion of a lot of artists’ work. For the short period it ran, it constantly had the public’s eye. To know now that during that period, the final pieces of evidence were being gathered to go public with the findings, lends a tension to everything surrounding Dismaland.

With this the movie’s scope, a central protagonist would have to be decided upon. In this story, there are three main groups: Banksy et al — reporters at the Mail on Sunday, those who initially devised the Robin Gunningham theory — researchers at the London’s Queen Mary University who used Banksy’s case as a test for their geographical profiling techniques which ultimately has been used as the central evidence pointing to Robin Gunningham as Banksy’s true identity. The easy choice of protagonist is Banksy himself until you think about it. There’s not a great deal of conflict in his story, however. If we’re following the setting up of Dismaland, he presumably was in the mode of business-as-usual. No. The more interesting protagonist is one of the Queen Mary University researchers.

This team might have anticipated this level of interest in their study, or maybe they were just doing it for a laugh, an example of how robust their method was that it extended far beyond the typical cases of disease mapping or the locating of a serial killer. The team dynamic that divised, implemented, and then saw the consequences of this decision would be fascinating to unpack. Should research be played as a publicity game? How much of a celebrity is publically owned? Is science morally impotent but can be wielded for “bad”?

As such Painting By Numbers would focus on this team. There are a bunch of interesting questions that fall out of the decision to focus on the research team. For practical reasons, it’s a team: we’ll have a few characters that can embody a range of opinions constantly butting heads over the legitimacy of their work. Painting By Numbers is then steered away from being seduced by the anonymous hero Banksy or fawning over his artwork. Most importantly, the figure of Banksy stays exactly where he ought to: in the shadows at arm’s length.

Get in touch if you want to work out some act breaks.

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