It started out as little more than a bet. One day after his graduation ceremony, Los Angeles Film School alumnus Will Tijerina began applying online for production crew positions. Hoping to demonstrate to his girlfriend the type of driven attitude that he wanted her to display once she finished at cosmetology school, Tijerina insisted that through dedication and sheer force of will (no pun intended) he would be able to find some paying industry work sooner than later. After responding to a Craigslist posting that weekend, Tijerina was contacted for a phone interview that following Monday. By the following weekend, Tijerina was flown to Ohio in preparation for his first day as a videographer for the Rainbow Dance Competition Tour – a gig that, in little more than a year, has evolved into a leadership position with the Kids Artistic Revue (KAR) Dance Competition.

Though filming dance competitions represented a bit of a departure from his original aspiration to direct music videos and films, Tijerina poured every ounce of his dedication and professionalism into his videography work for Rainbow and quickly demonstrated a strong aptitude behind the camera. Tijerina’s training in the Film program more than gave him the necessary technical prowess to impress his production team. But perhaps what was more endearing to his team was the work ethic that he displayed during Rainbow’s grueling competition shoot days. Throughout his first year with Rainbow (and subsequently KAR after they purchased Rainbow), Tijerina recalls having spent anywhere from 16-18 hours on set each competition day, between videography set-up, filming, and striking. With competition shoots ranging between 2-5 consecutive days, Tijerina credits his former military background with instilling in him the necessary discipline to persevere through the long hours despite massive sleep-deprivation.

After finishing his first season in videography, Tijerina came to a couple of realizations. First, despite the fact that lead videographers were responsible for bringing in the majority of revenue for the production team, Tijerina witnessed that it was not uncommon for burnout and relative lack of creative freedom to lead to high turnover among the position. On perhaps a more personal note, Tijerina also noticed that the sedentary nature of his job was taking a toll on his health, as he had gained over 25 lbs. since the season began, a fact that first dawned upon him one day after he noticed how much his stomach bulged into his tripod. Eager to stretch his wings, and shrink his waistline, Tijerina looked into transitioning to a backstage role with the production team. At that point in time, an opening had popped up in the shipping department for KAR. Since Tijerina had previous transportation experience during his service time in the army, the department change was an easy enough move. Soon, Tijerina found himself not only driving sprinter vans and Penske trucks from competition to competition, but also up and about everywhere backstage during the actual competition.

While conceding that the food backstage was just as decadent as the food during his videography tenure, Tijerina saw his weight start to come down as he made his presence felt interacting with everyone backstage. As he explains, the move to the back allowed Tijerina a chance to showcase his personality. Whereas videographers were pretty isolated on set, Tijerina relished the chance to wear many hats and cross-train with other departments since the actual competition shoots represented significant downtime for shipping and transportation. Tijerina recalls one particular regional competition in May of 2015 that really showcased the type of professionalism he is rightly proud of. An air-conditioning snafu by the venue’s technicians exacerbated seasonally high temperatures at the site of the competition. With all the lights and body heat, the auditorium temperature sizzled into the triple digits. Conditions were miserable for judges and on-lookers and began posing as dangerous health risks for the performers, many of whom were stricken by heatstroke. While it could have been understandable if the production team was simply overwhelmed by a perfect storm of circumstances out of their control, Tijerina was unwilling to show anything less than full diligence at amending the situation, especially since he sympathized with contestants who spent much of the year practicing for this moment. Once again relying on his former military mindset, Tijerina framed the situation as a challenge and took an all-hands-on-deck approach to help out wherever could – whether it was bringing as many cold waters as the production team could stock and find, cleaning away vomit from heatstriken dancers, or finding ways to engineer ventilation transport so that cool air from other areas of the venue could be pumped onto the performance stages for the competitors. Tijerina admits that secretly he loved the challenge of trying to make the best of a situation on the fly (“adjust fire” as he liked to call it in the army) even as he recalls how exhausting that particular day was. Tijerina’s efforts and customer service attitude were not lost on impressed dance instructors, parents, and competition directors who were so appreciative of his assistance that some of them wrote lengthy personal emails and letters praising Tijerina’s composure, positivity, quick thinking, and problem solving. The glowing comments further raised Tijerina’s profile to his superiors and appropriately, he was promoted to a competition lead and captain of his own video team.

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By the time Tijerina was given a leadership role, it was clear that the KAR production team had a star employee on their hands. Hopeful that eventually he could graduate to operational management at some point, Tijerina took advantage of the new facetime that he had with the production team’s higher ups. In brainstorming about his new videography team, Tijerina recommended a salary growth structure similar to the structure he experienced with the army. Tijerina’s ability to draft spreadsheets that explained the military’s salary matrix led KAR to adopt that exact same structure. Additionally, Tijerina pushed for and became the first employee to draft a tangible strategy by which the team could transition to digitally storing the dancers’ music as opposed to continuing with a difficult-to-maintain hard media library. Consummately contributing one way after another, by year’s end, Tijerina was nominated by his fellow crew members for the company’s year-end employee awards, known as the KARmas. As a culmination of his stellar growth, Tijerina was flattered when he learned that the company voted him the 2015 Employee of the Year.

Having demonstrated just what kind of an asset he could be on any production team, one would think that Tijerina might have planned to use his time at KAR merely as a springboard from which to start looking at other opportunities away from the dance competition circuit and more along the lines of the film production world that represented his original passion. Instead, Tijerina has expressed a desire to stay with KAR long-term and continue to rise up its ranks. Deeply loyal to KAR for giving him the opportunity to shine, Tijerina’s hope is to give back to company that calls his road family. Already in the works, Tijerina is preparing to help launch KAR Productions, a division of the company dedicated to producing scripted shorts and features. Tijerina’s ultimate hope is that through KAR Productions he can develop and direct feature films similar to the Step Up movie franchise, to help raise the profile of an industry he has become fiercely devoted to. Long aware of his potential in film production, KAR recently gave Tijerina the opportunity to direct a short industrial film that serves as a tutorial for how to judge dance competitions. That industrial will be uploaded and released on the KAR TV YouTube Channel and hopefully lead to Tijerina helming bigger and higher profile projects for KAR. Similarly, Tijerina hopes to work with members of the KAR Production team on his own outside projects. As he explains, the off-season provides him ample time to develop and shoot personal non-dance-related passion projects under the banner of HOBO Productions. In fact, HOBO shot a short film titled Blind Date this most recent off-season, and already has begun its post-production.

Beyond just giving back to the dance competition industry, like many Los Angeles Film School graduates who are appreciative of the training they received, Tijerina also has chosen to give back to the school by commencing a relationship that has gifted many former alumni the opportunity to interview for openings on the KAR videography team. As the 2016 season officially began, Tijerina mentioned that nearly a dozen former alumni were hired as new employees for KAR’s competition teams, along with several others who were selected as alternates. And as KAR’s profile and production team continues to grow, Tijerina can think of no better candidates for future opportunities than his fellow LAFS alumni. Of course, that’s not to say that the work is for everyone. Tijerina concedes that the lifestyle of working the dance competition circuit requires a fit into the company’s family-like culture, much more than any technical talent to operate a camera. That Tijerina has demonstrated both explains why he has been so successful…and why the sky literally is the limit for him at KAR. But don’t tell him that.  Because for Will Tijerina, breaking the limit of that sky is another mouth-watering challenge in his quest to aim higher, “adjust fire,” and shoot for the moon.

Pictures included:

Group Picture of all LAFS 2016 KAR Hires (from left to right): Will Tijerina, William Robinson-Smith, Devante Bolton, ?, Christian Perez (back), Diego Garcia (crouched), Joel Del Campo, David Raffaelle, Jacklyn Ramirez (back), Myesha Coleman, Liezl Carstens (back), Adriana Leos, Nick Achten, Darius Wells, John Casas

Check out Will’s work, and follow him on social media.

KAR Main Site: http://dancekar.com/

KAR Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dancekar/?hl=en

KAR Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dancekar

KAR Twitter: https://twitter.com/dancekar?lang=en

KAR YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/dancekar

Rainbow Main Site: http://rainbowdance.com/schedule

Rainbow Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rainbowcomp/?hl=en

Rainbow Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rainbowdance

Rainbow Twitter: https://twitter.com/rainbowcomp

Will Tijerina Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/colomexirican/

Will Tijerina Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/willtijerina

Will Tijerina Twitter: https://twitter.com/willtijerina

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