Please introduce yourself. What do you do? Why? What do you want people to know about you?
My birth name is Alberto Peña, after my father, but I go by Mojo – my childhood nickname. This was inspired by the film Austin Powers in Goldmember, which I was obsessed with as a kid. It’s a reminder and proof of my love for movies. I’m a Los Angeles-based Director and Actor with a strong ability and passion for both roles.
I’m drawn to telling stories about redemption, triumphing over adversity, and, most importantly, stories that make viewers FEEL something. This, I believe, is the essence of movies, and it is why we all enjoy watching them. Whatever project I’m working on, I want viewers to have fun while also learning something, whether it’s factual or something about themselves they didn’t know before.
I’m grateful to be a first generation Hispanic, having come from hardworking Dominican roots. My family took a big leap moving to New York in the 1980s, and I feel like I took a similar risk by driving my minivan cross-country from my hometown of Kissimmee, Florida to Los Angeles during the peak of COVID in 2020. I’m proud to say that two years later, I’m still a working Actor/Director/Filmmaker. In that time I’ve learned and experienced so much, as well as met so many wonderful people.
What qualities make you different and unique from everyone else in the industry?
The qualities that distinguish me from everyone else in the industry stem from a few factors: dedication, obsession, respect and love for the craft, and, most importantly, the desire to create. Every day, I’m hungry to learn and improve my filmmaking craft. My work ethic is daily, intentional, and consistent. I am determined to give my all to every project, regardless of my role. My philosophy is that films live forever, so if I don’t give each project 100%, I’ll come to regret it every time I rewatch it.
Another quality that helps me in this industry is my ability to move on. Whether it’s positive or negative, I soak the result in, and then move on. Let’s say I just booked an audition with one of my favorite directors – that’s awesome!!! …… And now it’s time to move on. I ask myself: What comes next?
How can I prepare for the audition? Or let’s say I just directed a short and it didn’t do as well at festivals as I hoped – this is heartbreaking!!! …… And now it’s time to move on. Is there anything I’ve learned as a result of making the film? What’s the next project I’m working on? This is the mindset I use to avoid getting caught up in the results. I’m an artist and I have to keep on creating, it’s what I love to do.
Finally, my adaptability qualities have pushed me to grow and get the most out of myself and others. This applies both to directing (having to make decisions on the fly when things aren’t going according to plan) and to acting (being open to the director’s vision even if it differs from what I rehearsed).
Describe THAT moment when you realized you’re doing what you were born to do.
One vividly defining moment occurred in 2016, when one of my best friend, Shan Karemani, and I entered a short film competition (for which we were finalists) at Stetson University and ended up making a short film that was supposed to include dialogue but sounded so bad that Shan had the brilliant idea of turning it into a 1920’s styled silent film. I was stunned when he showed me the rough draft… When did Shan get the ability to edit?!?
Haha, but to be honest this moment changed my life because it was the first time I ever believed my performance as an actor. And my voice was never heard!
I replayed the video so many times, paying close attention to the details, trying to figure out how I told this story without using my voice. This happy accident was a fantastic discovery that completely altered my perspective on the filmmaking process. You could check out the link to see the video. I dug deep into my Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton stunts bag.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to go through and how did you grow through it?
One of the most difficult challenges I faced was the holiday season at the end of 2021. There wasn’t a lot of work available because of Covid and the time of year. Like everyone else, I began to question my process, whether I was making the right career moves, and even my filmmaking abilities. I was thinking about how to make 2022 a year of growth.
I was proud of everything I accomplished in my first year in Los Angeles, but I knew I wanted to raise the bar and continue climbing that mountain in the new year. My ambition was to book more work and become a working filmmaker. I created my goals list, met some talented people, and remained committed in 2022.
Opportunities began to appear out of nowhere in the entertainment industry, and I began to book awesome work such as a commercial that aired on Hulu (which my friends told me about because I had no idea!), attending my first red carpet premiere for a movie I acted in, narrating my first audiobook, and so many other exciting opportunities. Going through that cold spell taught me that persistence leads to perseverance.
Who are the TOP 3 people you’d want to meet that could elevate your career or business? Why these specific individuals?
Martin Scorsese is one of them, as is Al Pacino, and Michael Khan (editor for most of Steven Spielberg’s films).
I know that just talking with Marty would automatically boost my film IQ. His love of motion pictures would rub off on me, possibly giving me a new perspective on our beloved medium. I would also love to dive into the day-to-day technical work of being a Director.
The other side of the coin is Al Pacino. I’d love to pick Al’s brain about the acting side of film, learning about his preparation, staying fresh when not working, and how his process has evolved over the years.
With Michael Khan, we’d briefly discuss how awesome Sagittarius’ are since our birthdays are one day apart haha. After that, I’d love to watch Michael edit a project, as I take a million notes. Working with Michael would make me a better filmmaker in general, not just a better editor. I’d ask Michael about his process and how he approaches the pacing of different scenes. Does he build cuts around music? Does he let the acting dictate the pace?
This may be breaking the rules (as my favorite filmmakers have taught me to do), but I have to give an honorable mention to one of my inspirations, Stanley Kubrick, who would be my first choice if he were still alive.
Despite the fact he only created a handful of films, each one is so well crafted and has such profound layers that multiple viewings are not only recommended, but required to capture the multiple messages in his work. I’d love to get whooped by Stanley at chess (one of his favorite things to do, and something he was fantastic at) and get to know how he organizes the shooting schedule of his complex movies while keeping track of every nuance throughout the picture.
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