The force is strong with LSU alumnus Chris Spitale.
Spitale journeyed last week from far, far away — the San Francisco Bay Area — to visit his former college, the Manship School of Mass Communication, and provide students insight on his job as senior manager of global product development at Lucasfilm Ltd.
Spitale, who graduated in 1996 with a bachelor’s in advertising and in 1998 with a master’s in media management, oversees every stage in product development for Star Wars and Indiana Jones gifts and collectibles worldwide.
“I work in merchandising and licensing. What we do is approve all Star Wars merchandise,” Spitale said. “We’re divided into two groups — a hard goods and soft goods group. I’m in the hard goods group, which is toys, collectibles, sporting goods, consumer electronics. The list goes on and on.”
Spitale’s department signs off on such matters as replica accuracy, product plans, the color of collectibles, packaging, marketing materials and final production.
The creative freedom he has in developing products is demonstrated in some of the personal touches he’s been able to make. For example, a Star Wars calendar character carried a name that was “Spitale” spelled backward, and two other alien children figures were named after his younger cousins.
Creativity is a must, he said, because with Star Wars, a brand as massive as the universe it exists in, there have been so many different items, making it difficult to create something new.
Items such as a festive Darth Vader building a Death Star in the snow for Christmas or a tiki-themed Yoda are examples of a fresh spin on Star Wars, Spitale explained.
The Amite native didn’t always know where he would end up and said he believes students aren’t aware of their job options after graduation.
In his case, Spitale said he was “floating along and having fun” as an undergraduate.
Spitale partly attributes his success to LSU’s Career Services, which was one of his “most invaluable assets” during college, especially when seeking an internship and job. While scanning a book of internships one day, Spitale noticed a Lucasfilm internship and said to himself, “Wow, this is what I want to do.” With the help of his adviser, he filled out an application but was denied.
Unwavering, Spitale began grad school and again applied for the internship the following summer, emerging triumphant. When he asked his new employers what influenced their decision, they said it was the professionalism of his behavior, resumé and application, which his thesis professor had stressed.
After the two-month internship, Spitale returned to school to complete his master’s degree. He was back at Lucasfilm a year later.
“You can’t say enough about communication skills,” Spitale said. “This is everything from formulating an email to rewriting text on packaging and making it snap to editing and catching grammatical errors.”
In responding to questions from LSU students on Sept. 13, he admitted he doesn’t have a good wookie call, but said his job does comes with such benefits as annually hosting a paneled discussion at Comic Con, writing a column for Star Wars Insider and being transformed into the product he handles every day — an action figure.
Years ago, the models for collectibles were sculpted by hand, but now actors, or others such as like Spitale, are being digitally scanned to create more accurate replicas of fictional characters, he said.
“What that allows you to do is take the exact replica of human likeness. Now days the likeness on toys and products, especially low-end stuff, is amazing compared to where it was 10 to 15 years ago. I’ve got to do a lot of fun stuff that I never would have thought I’d be able to do, and I’m always discovering new fun things on the job.”