The 15-year-old actor from Sedona begins shooting the short film Our Little Secret, set near Payson, with director Jennifer Jordan, a film and production major at ASU Herberger Institute's School of Theatre and Film.
Alena plays Rose, a troubled teen whose mental disorder leads to "bizarre relationship delusions."
"I'm always up for challenges, and I had never done a role like this before," Alena says from her home in Sedona, where her family moved from California.
It is certainly not Alena's first turn in front of the camera. In fact, fans of short films will get to see plenty of her at the ZGI Shorts Film Festival this month, as well. Also, you might have spotted her as the young version of Frances Fisher in Sedona: The Move.
The teen has been performing since she was 3, starting in dance and then getting involved in drama at a private school in California. In 2009, she unexpectedly got involved in a film in which her father Dean had a role when the lead actress dropped out.
"The director asked my dad, 'Hey, does your daughter want to audition?'" she recalls.
Alena did, and got the part.
"Now I just want to keep doing this and keep the dream rolling," she says.
The move from California to Sedona, instead of being a step backward in a film career, has actually opened opportunities for work. That has come through the Zaki Gordon Institute for Independent Filmmaking, where student filmmakers are always looking for local actors.
"ZGI has a lot of auditions," Alena says. "You just keep showing up and keep becoming friends with the directors. Every year you come back, and you become part of the family."
Jennifer Jordan was on set during the filming of one of the three short films in which Alena performed during the past year.
"She saw me acting in the film and saw me kind of adding my own flair. She liked what I did with it and wanted me for her film," Alena says.
When Alena first saw the script for Our Little Secret, she jumped at it.
"I've never been in a film that had suspense and romance and comedy and drama," she says. "It was very tempting and inviting to me. I instantly fell in love with it."
Even at 15, she knows what material appeals to her most. "I love the crazy stuff, the stuff that 's challenging, that's going to force me to go deeper into myself to things that aren't usually there. I like comedy and the light roles, but it's the emotional stuff I gravitate towards."
Alena's acting education has been varied - she even studied at the Lee Stasburg studio in LA last summer, but she has found that for her no technique is better than the others. She employs a combination that works for her.
When she first saw herself on screen, Alena closed her eyes and pretended it was someone else up there. Now, as an actor, she can watch herself "without cringing as much" and is student enough to critique herself and pick up on unconscious tics and habits.
While student short films are great for building a résumé, it's not all about that for Alena. "For me it's always about telling a story," she says. "I love to bring my individuality and uniqueness into a unique story."
At Zaki Gordon this year, she was the female lead in Taylor Camarot's Dead West, Victoria Rincon's Resurgence and Josh Miller's Red Blanket. These will be among the films screened at the annual ZGI Shorts Film Festival May 25-27 in Sedona.
She points out that this year on film she has "experienced severe schizophrenia, relentless zombies, mind erasing, pregnancy, terminal cancer and being shot three times. I guess you could say it's been a busy spring."
If you're wondering how she had time to do all this. Alena takes online classes. It is at home, she says, that her parents have helped her develop self-motivation and self-drive. No matter what the circumstances, she wants to stay on the course of filmmaking.
"The Sedona experience has been phenomenal for getting experience," she says. "At Zaki Gordon, it's amazing how much students learn in a year, and I learn at the same time."
As her summer opens up, she sees a few options to keep things moving forward. One is to find representation in Los Angeles. Another is to enroll as a film student at ZGI "to round out my film experience" in directing, writing and acting.
"At this point I can't see myself doing anything else besides film," she says.
Alena Jutilla continues to pursue interesting stories and characters, and she continues to study. "You always learn every time you do a film."