Christopher Spenceley (B.A. ’07, Broadcast & Cable Production) was the “movie guy” among his friends, but because he’s from a military family, his initial plan had been to seek out the U.S. Air Force ROTC program and chase his childhood dream of flying fighter jets. He soon learned, however, that he couldn’t qualify for the program.
“The best thing that the Royal Oak (MI) schools did for me was introduce me to VHS editing in eighth-grade English, and when I excelled at it, the teachers created a class for my second semester where it was literally me, the VHS machine and projects my teachers would give me to complete,” he said.
“It was WMU that opened my eyes and made me realize this was a real possibility for work.”
In the fall of 2004, Chris entered the Film, Video and Media Studies major, which ultimately led to his degree in Broadcast & Cable Production with a minor in Creative Writing. The friendships Christopher made during his time at Western changed his life.
“I was fairly outgoing in high school but leaving all my friends back east to attend WMU meant I had to start all over!” he said. “My roommate, Jason Sobocinski, suitemate and RA Kachi Anyikwa, and everyone's favorite Disney fan, Matthew O'Hern (now a captain at Delta Airlines), came to be the crew I'd get into shenanigans with. We'd attend the book/poster sales, go to the Bronco Mall for Sunday Lil' Ceasars (since all the cafeterias were closed for dinner), hit up the rec center from time to time, and even trouped over to the Kalamazoo 10 for a movie when we had the spare pocket change.”
Christopher’s friend, Matt, also played a starring role in leading him to his creative passion for Star Wars fanfilm-making. It all started when Matt bolted over to Christopher’s dorm, and they watched a video called “Ryan vs. Dorkman” on a website called TheForce.net.
“I'd been a member of the site, only skimming it for Star Wars prequel news,” he said. “What Matt and I saw was a video of two guys our age wearing t-shirts and fighting with lightsabers that pushed the boundaries of what we thought was possible with homemade visual effects. Next thing we know, we're buying lightsaber toys at the K-Mart on Stadium Drive and using Matt's JVC MiniDV camcorder to record improvised duels in the Garneau-Harvey rec room.”
Over the course of their sophomore and junior years, Christopher and Matt tinkered with and fine-tuned their skills. “This hobby became my side quest while pursuing my degree at WMU,” Christopher said. “Before my junior year, I’d applied what I'd learned both online and from my classes, and it became ‘For Knowledge and Defense,’ a feature-length student fanfilm.”
“My film and video professors were always interested in the project, despite my initial shyness about it due to the novel nature of the medium, but whenever I could apply class assignments toward its production, they were happy to allow it,” he continued. “This even afforded me peer review among other students. While some rolled their eyes at my 'modern day story that still has sword fights for some reason,’ I found many like minds at WMU, as well as volunteers who helped build my online passions into something very real.”
These like minds included Heather Addison, an associate professor who taught film studies at Western. Dr. Addison lent her time, expertise and encouragement to Christopher.
“Prof. Addison always had open ears and office hours as I would try to make sense of the vast world of cinema, frankly, by asking a whole lot of questions in class (to the annoyance of some of my peers, I've heard),” he said. “I felt encouraged and was given helpful guidance through some of the more stressful periods. She made me feel more comfortable with my burgeoning creative spark in a way no educator had before her, and I'll always be thankful for that.”
The Magic of Adaptability
Sometimes the degree you earn from college doesn’t lead to a job in the field you’d hoped for or intended. The good news is, with patience, diligence and a willingness to adapt, finding a meaningful career path is possible—and you can still stoke those creative passions, too.
“Unfortunately, graduating with a creative degree in Michigan in 2008 did not find me many opportunities to pursue filmmaking as a career,” Christopher said. “I worked odd and part-time jobs for years until I moved to Colorado in 2011 and found a career in warehouse logistics. I never gave up making videos though, and that's what led me to discussing and making films with my online friends from TheForce.net, and the annual Lightsaber Choreography Competition.”
With a small group of other fellow supporters and enthusiasts, Christopher has since taken over the Lightsaber Choreography Competition and became the lead social media administrator for SaberComp.com to keep the tradition going. Built by visual effects artist and compositor Nathaniel Caauwe, formerly of Zoic Studios, SaberComp.com is the premier community for lightsaber enthusiasts and creators.
“Our main goal is to make cool lightsaber fights and support the community doing it however possible,” he said. “We've had some generous sponsors over the years, but overall, it is volunteer work paid out of pocket to support and inspire filmmakers of all skill levels.”
After his time at Western, Christopher made new colleagues and friends, started a family and found his place in a community, all the while fueling his creative spirit. Considering his flexibility has served him so well, his advice to current Broncos makes total sense.
“Be adaptable,” he said. Even going into college, I knew that a low percentage of students use their degree. My professors tried to assure me that my body of work and resume would speak for themselves, but trust me, networking is just as crucial. Make the effort to not just keep in touch with your peers, but to truly know them and what they've done for you just by receiving your company.”
“The Force will be with you, always,” Christopher added, “and don’t skip on the Bronco hockey games. They’re a blast.”
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