How To Make Money From Hollywood

Stuck in a cooperative business rut? Let these stories from the silver screen relight your imagination.


Moviegoers typically walk out of theaters with heads full of quotes and bellies full of popcorn. But how many leave with an appreciation for the hours of work required to bring these multi-million dollar projects to life? Credit union innovators often find themselves in the same boat: They deliver end products they hope members will appreciate and conceal the array of behind-the-scenes working parts and partnerships required to make the gadget go. Narrative arcs and computer-generated imagery aside, the movie-making process offers plenty of lessons for cooperatives about how to take smart risks in an era where nothing is a sure thing. The following films each resonated in their own respective way with moviegoers, according to review site Hidden in each are lessons for credit unions about the nature of innovation.


Summary: A coming-of-age story about a young man from a broken home in Texas, Boyhood follows young Mason from elementary school through the first days of college. He grows up, moves around, falls in love, and experiences all the ups and downs that life in the 21st century throws at a young person.

Rotten Tomatoes Review: 98% “fresh”

The Story Behind The Story: Filmmaker Richard Linklater started filming in 2002 with no script but an epic idea: capture the honest challenges and experiences a boy faces as he becomes a young man. Linklater and his crew filmed a few days each year for 12 consecutive years, documenting the protagonist’s life from age 6 through 18, according to Variety magazine. With only a rough plot line, Linklater wrote the next year’s script after reviewing the previous year’s footage and incorporated real events that happened to his actors into the script. Although its production company provided the film a shoestring budget of $2.4 million ($200,000 for each year of filming), that investment paid dividends. Boyhood showed up on more best-of-the-year lists than any other film in 2014. It was also nominated for Best Picture and Patricia Arquette won Best Supporting Actress in the 87th Academy Awards.

The Credit Union Lesson: It is possible to achieve the impossible. Had Boyhood been a flop, it would be easy to characterize it as a filmmaking stunt, a motion picture footnote in company with Smell-O-Vision and CinemaScope. Instead, it serves as a lasting paean to the merits of a grand scale outlook and an intense perseverance of will. Peers, regulators, and even members might dismiss innovation by focusing on all the reasons why something shouldn’t work, but faith in vision can bring even the most far-fetched scenarios within reach.

The LEGO Movie

Summary: An evil businessman’s plan to make the LEGO world absolutely perfect (and bland and rote and uncreative) can only be stopped by an ordinary, average LEGO construction worker and the untapped power of his imagination. And Batman. Batman also helps.

Rotten Tomatoes Review: 96% “fresh”

The Story Behind The Story: There have been many movies based on toys. Some were box office giants (Transformers), some became cult classics (Clue), and some flopped (Battleship, The Garbage Pail Kids Movie). The LEGO Movie writers/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller faced a special challenge in creating a plot around plastic building bricks, so instead of focusing on the product, they focused on the paradoxical ways people play with LEGOS. For example, while there is a sense of accomplishment in following the instructions to duplicate the pirate ship that appears on the box, using pieces from different sets to cobble together a hybrid school bus/winged dragon is SO MUCH FUN! The approach tapped into a universal appeal. The LEGO Movie grossed $468 million in theaters, according to Entertainment Weekly — something unheard of for an animated movie, let alone an animated movie based on a toy. Its creators are hard at work on a sequel and two spin-offs, one of which features breakout character LEGO Batman.

The Credit Union Lesson: You can never pay too much attention to the user experience. Lord and Miller did not set out to create a movie franchise by constructing paper-thin characters and an artificial plot tenuously connected to the toy itself (I’m looking at you Battleship). Instead, they spun a narrative around the personal connections their audience had with LEGOs. Listening to what members say about how they use the credit union’s products and services — coupled with firsthand experience — is a crucial part of building something better.

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy

Summary: Two aliens, a talking raccoon, a sentient plant, and a human who calls himself Starlord prevent a cosmically powerful rock from falling into the hands of evil aliens. Along the way, there are spaceships, laser beams, and dance challenges. Seriously. That’s the plot. And it’s amazing.

Rotten Tomatoes Review: 91% “fresh”

The Story Behind The Story: After years of licensing its comic book properties for other studios’ box office bonanzas, in 2008 Marvel Studios began producing its own films featuring characters Marvel still owned: Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America. Over seven short years, Marvel Studios went from being a co-production house to the studio that could do no wrong. Its first nine superhero films generated $6.3 billion combined, according to MarketWatch, but that didn’t stop the head scratching over the announcement of Marvel Studio’s tenth feature, Guardians of the Galaxy. Despite the fact its main characters were only known to a handful of hardcore aficionados, Guardians of the Galaxy provided its star power by becoming the third-highest grossing film of 2014 and the studio’s third-highest grossing motion picture ever.

The Credit Union Lesson: You’ve got to earn the right to break the rules. Marvel Studios has a strict formula for movies that includes how it chooses directors, how it combines action and comedy, and how it equally appeals to long-time comic book nerds as well as the general movie-going public. In nine successive instances, Marvel Studios built a groundswell of support and credence. So when it announced its next project would feature a CGI raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper, its fans had faith the movie would be a quality project. Similarly, members and employees trust credit unions that have already established transparency and honest achievement when they want to try something daring or even a little wacky.

Gone Girl

gone_girlSummary: A beautiful woman is missing, feared kidnapped or worse. The prime suspect among police as well as the general public is her husband. Based on the 2012 book by Gillian Flynn, offering anything more about this film would be a massive SPOILER.

Rotten Tomatoes Review: 88% “fresh”

The Story Behind The Story: Flynn’s third novel, Gone Girl spent eight weeks at the top of The New York Times bestseller list and became a literary and cultural phenomenon. Discussions of movie adaptations were underway before the book even released. Director David Fincher, who was responsible for the 2011 American adaptation of Steig Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, followed the Tattoo formula to turn Gone Girl into a box office success that cleared $368 million last year.

Working with a script by Flynn, Fincher recruited long-time collaborators in cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth and composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Together, these folks overlaid the best elements of big screen successes like Fight Club and the The Social Network onto a thrilling story laden with twists, turns, and dark psychological explorations, according to the Huffington Post.

The Credit Union Lesson: Fincher didn’t give in to the temptation to give too many people the opportunity to tinker. In the book Damn Good Advice (For People With Talent!), legendary advertising genius George Lois says it’s too many cooks in the kitchen that is the leading cause of death for many grand ideas. A credit union’s board and executives are often charged with finding or creating the right teams to execute their vision, but even a dream team can only work miracles if they have enough faith and elbow room to do so.

*All movie posters courtesy of