What are the best depictions of our profession on the big screen?

Compared to other professions, there are few workplace trainers portrayed on the big screen. Maybe we’re just not considered as exciting as spies, commandos or ballet dancers. So, what are the best depictions of workplace learning professionals in film?  Before we begin, any list like this needs ground rules. Mine are:

First, they must be trainers for adult learners, preferably in a work environment. They have to have taught someone to do a job or skill. That means say goodbye to teachers and college professors. Everyone, well Hollywood, loves the story of the unconventional teacher who goes to the rough part of town to inspire wayward students using hugs, toughness and an occasional violin lesson.

Smile while I’m teaching you something!

Secondly, they must have played a significant role in the film with screen time and dialog. Also, they must have been integral to the plot in some way. Meaning, if they were not in the movie, we’d have a totally different, and conceivably worse movie.

Lastly, military drill instructor and martial art Zen master types are out, mostly because it’s too easy. Apologies to Mr. Miyagi, Yoda, and Gunnery Sergeants Foley and Hartman.

Besides, how many of us can belittle, curse and insult new hires like “Full Metal Jacket?”

Hollywood has a few examples of adult learning professionals who are good at their jobs.

So, while we’re waiting for the “Based on a true story,” trainer saves the day movie, Hollywood has a few examples of adult learning professionals who are good at their jobs. Fictional trainers like:

  1. Charlie Blackwood, “Top Gun,” as played by Kelly McGillis. This Tom Cruise film, about an elite naval flight school, is remembered for groundbreaking areal footage of actual F-14 fighter jets. While the setting is a military base, this character is within the guidelines because Charlie is a civilian instructor who provides combat strategy training. Of course, this is Hollywood, so she has the added responsibility of being the love interest. Charlie handles both roles well. She teaches the hero how to reign in his reckless areal maneuvers while providing life lessons about love and loss. All while surrounded by an underappreciated kicking 80’s soundtrack.

Best Line: “My review of your flight performance was RIGHT ON!”

  1. View From the TopJohn Witney, “View from the Top,” as played by Mike Myers. This film stars Gweneth Paltrow as a small town girl who follows Candace Bergen’s advice to become the most successful flight attendant in airline history. The hero starts out with loads of ambition and naivete. Her big break comes when she’s selected to participate in an elite training program for a high-profile airline. Enter trainer with anger management issues, John Whitney. He is the comic relief, so the character is played for laughs. Incredibly, the writers still find time for him to display fine examples of ice-breakers, situational role-playing, and employee evaluations. The typical Hollywood montage scene is refreshingly utilized to highlight the trainer’s ability to engage adult learners. When Gweneth leaves training for the last time, she tells her trainer she couldn’t have done it without him.  I dare any trainer not to tear up.

Best Line: “You put the wrong em-PHA-sis on the wrong syl-LA-ble”

  1. Victor Melling, “Miss Congeniality,” as played by Michael Caine. Sandra Bullock stars in this popular fish out of water, ugly duckling transformation comedy-caper. A lifelong tomboy, Bullock is an FBI agent sent to fight crime in the seedy world of beauty pageants. Candace Bergan(Again!) demands our hero learn how to be a real pageant contestant. Enter independent coach Victor Melling. He is both a subject matter expert (SME) and trainer extraordinaire. The movie gives him opportunities to display instructional design skills, coaching, and mentoring. This is another comedy so Hollywood doesn’t stray too far from the funny. It still is a nice example of an SME, hired for a job and accomplishes the employer’s objective in the time frame given.

Best Line: “Smilers wear a crown, losers wear a frown.”

  1. Point of No Return
    Learning never requires us to be “rude”

    Amanda, “Point of No Return,” as played by Anne Bancroft. What’s the old phrase? Great assassins aren’t born, they’re just well trained. There’s nothing unusual about a criminal becomes deadly assassin tale in Hollywood. Bridget Fonda stars as a hardened criminal sentenced to the death for her bad attitude. Although she has no redeeming qualities, some shadowy government agency decides to spare her life and force her to learn how to be an assassin. What makes this drama special is the addition of a “Miss Manners” style instructor played by Anne Bancroft. So in addition to the expected montage of fighting, shooting, and killing, we’re also treated to a training montage and several scenes of Bridget participating in a grace and culture class, taught by workplace learning professional Anne Bancroft. As trainers, we know some attendees are “prisoners” because they’re forced to attend the session. Well, Anne Bancroft’s character has a room full of actual prisoners and she handles the disruptive and detached group with grace and experience. Sure, she’s also a tough as nails instructor and probably has the power to have her students killed, it just we barely notice. One can almost see her wearing a CPLP lapel pin. Tastefully placed, of course.

Best Line: “Always smile when you enter a room. It relaxes others.”

  1. Blake, “Glengarry Glen Ross,” as played by Alec Baldwin. This drama, about struggling timeshare salespeople, is a must-see. It starts with a bunch of excuse-making salespeople sitting in an office waiting to hear a guest speaker. The expected boring training presentation about sales skills and can-do attitude is blown apart by Blake, who begins his session by saying the country’s most repeated line about coffee ever. What follows is the greatest seven minutes in office motivational movie history. It’s basically the “Office Space” equivalent to: “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick butt…and I’m all out of bubblegum.” (Google it) Alec Baldwin channels controlled rage and owns this presentation. There are no electronic devices, only a set of steak knives and a blackboard. It’s an old-school approach and it works. This “R” rated speech is often imitated by sales managers in lieu of hiring a professional motivational speaker. Once. Right before someone makes a call to HR.

Best Line:  “Put that coffee down! Coffee’s for closers only.”

So, what do you think? Who did I miss? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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