I recently had the opportunity to visit with Marc Havener, founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Resonate Pictures, and Bryan Belknap, the Creative Director. Havener spent 10 years working in Hollywood as assistant director and production assistant on films such as Pirates of the Caribbean; Fun with Dick and Jane; Thirteen Days; and Wedding Crashers and from that experience, he learned the trade of file production. Belknap had been a screenwriter and worked with Havener in Hollywood. Now they both develop and produce compliance training film using movie clips to illustrate key points.

Fast forward 10 years and Havener got a call from the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) of BearingPoint, an international consulting company. The CCO had an idea to do some corporate training videos on ethics and compliance. As Havener related “before I could hang up on him he said but I want him in the style of the TV show The Office and I thought wow that sounds like a cool idea. We created a doppelganger company with the name of Griever and we created 10 episodes and it was a smashing success within the company, they cast a couple employees internally from the company we hired some professional actors but one of them involved the employees in the company.”

When Havener got this opportunity, he hired Belknap to write the story. He realized he needed somebody who knew storytelling and could weave messaging into characters to tell a story, contrasting with the typical training coming from the lawyers’ side, which is generally focused on what the policy says. As Belknap knew from his screenwriter days, this is not how people in the real world think, speak or act so he added a more realistic human dialogue and component.

They created a video training series using BearingPoint employees telling real stories which resonated with the workforce. Indeed, they found with their BearingPoint project, once these videos started getting released the employees who starred in the videos, became minor celebrities within the company. More importantly the episodes started becoming so popular that employees figured out how to get into the system before the training was announced. Employees would start watching these over the weekend before they were officially released internally because they wanted to know what was going to happen.

From this beginning these two gents built Resonate Pictures a supplier of movie clip based ethics and training videos which are widely popular. They recently released an eBook, entitled “How to Teach Ethics and Compliance with Hollywood Movie Clips”, in which they explain how and why ethics and compliance training using movie clips to get the concepts across can be a powerful training tool in the toolkit of the compliance practitioner. The eBook notes, “Movie clips will turn your surly team – the one that has reverted into eye-rolling teenagers when forced to sit through a lecture — into alert, emotionally and intellectually engaged employees. Better yet, they’ll enjoy learning about ethics and compliance!” They list five reasons for this phenomenon.

Create unforgettable teachable moments

Instead of having lawyers drone on, giving forgettable instructions on ethics, culture and honesty; they will clearly enjoy a scene of a star like Leonardo DiCaprio bluffing his way through his job as a medical doctor.

Place ethics and compliance training in tangible situations

Some people just do not understand concepts until they see them in action. For some employees, a clear directive like, “Don’t take bribes” might raise other questions such as “What if it’s non-monetary compensation? Or a gift? What if there’s no expectation of quid pro quo?”

Create a common language among employees

This means a cultural language across your employee base. Think to the time there were only three channels with TV shows each night. If you heard the phrase, “Dyn-o-mite” or “yada yada yada” or threatened to call in the A-Team to solve a problem, everybody knew what you were talking about. However, “about the only thing you can be fairly confident that people will know is A) who won the Super Bowl and B) who died on The Walking Dead.” By showing your employees the same movie clips, they will begin to create a shared language, a shorthand for ethical behavior that references the clips they’ve seen, where they hum the “Batman” theme when someone’s invading privacy or warn someone not to “pull a Clooney” with their expense reports. 

Provide a vicarious learning experience

This simply means people can learn by watching someone else and it is crucial because it means people can learn to avoid the bad/incorrect behavior they witness by another person and make the ethical move when they personally face a similar real life choice.

Create mental markers

Whatever ethics and compliance lesson you communicate with a movie clip it will live on beyond your classroom. If your employees ever see that clip again, your compliance lesson will pop back into their minds, reinforcing your point. Sprinkling in movie clips helps move your training outside the classroom and into employees’ everyday lives; so much so that “eventually, they won’t be able to watch TV without spotting all the ethics and compliance moments in their favorite shows.”

I have urged compliance practitioners to bring more storytelling into their compliance messaging. Havener stated, “our thesis if you put the employee in the shoes of the person they’re watching they will remember they will actually connect to it see how it applies to their lives and they will remember what you talked about. I mean exponentially longer than if you just go over a policy or show a PowerPoint or even just the talking head video with people that don’t seem real that they’re cardboard. What gets me excited about that is you are expanding your classroom. So instead of it just being in that one hour of training. The next time they see George Clooney they’re going to remember the training, the next time they watch that movie that you showed a clip from they’re going to be reminded of the training and so it becomes a great drift method of training.”

This ties into the 360-degrees of communications in compliance, I am discussing in this month’s podcast series of one month to a more effective compliance program. Communications obviously comes in many forms. Think about the power of these types of communications as compliance reminders, which ties back to the Morgan Stanley Declination from 2012. There the Justice Department recognized Morgan Stanley for emailing out 35 compliance reminders to Garth Peterson over seven years. Now imagine the power of these short ethics and compliance video training clips going out over the same period of time and the effect it would have both on your employees and the regulators.


This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2017