Adams County native says she’s still connected to her roots –
By Patricia Beech –
A former Adams County resident has been honored for her work in the American movie industry.
Ally Downs, a daytime Emmy-winning producer, actress, and screenwriter whose family lives in Winchester, just returned from France where her 16-minute short film, The Caregiver, won Best Screenplay at the Nice International Film Festival, as well as accolades at the Cannes Film Festival.
She says winning at the red-carpet, star studded cinema events was “magical”.
The film, which Downs wrote, produced, directed, and starred in, is loosely based on her late father-in-law who was diagnosed with cancer and later succumbed to the disease.
“I was very close to him,” she says. “He was like another Dad to me, he was so kind.”
Downs actually stopped everything that was happening in her life to care for her father-in-law.
“That’s what I believe you should do for your family,” she says. “When he passed away, I was heartbroken, and so I started writing about him to help me with the grieving process and it ended up becoming a short film.”
Downs believes her film has a universal message for everyone.
“This story is about hope, and never giving up,” she says. “The main character in the film, Ed, frequently uses the expression, ‘It’s never to late, kid’, because my father-in-law used to say that to me – it’s about having hope no matter what’s going on in your life.”
In the film, Downs cast herself in the role of Angela, a woman trapped in an abusive relationship.
Like the story’s main character, Ed, she refuses to despair and finally is able to free herself from the cycle of violence.
“She doesn’t give up,” says Downs. “She gets on with her life and tries to be the best person she can.”
Downs entered her G-rated short film into several film festivals.
So far, it’s beat out the competition claiming 15 wins for best actress, best actor, best supporting actor, best supporting actress, best writer, and best original screenplay for a short film.
In addition to Downs, the Caregiver stars Jazmyn Simon (from the HBO series Ballers), Dan Sutter as Ed, Bjorn Johnson, and Cristina Miller.
Downs was born and lived in Adams County with her parents, Linda and Robert Downs, and her five siblings.
“My parents moved to Dayton when I was little girl so I grew up there, but when I graduated high school, they moved back to Adams County, and I moved to Los Angeles.”
She says the move from Dayton to L.A. was “very scary”.
“People are really friendly in Ohio, especially in a small town,” she says. “Every weekend our parents would take us back to Adams County to visit our grandparents, so I was in Adams County almost every single weekend of my life growing up and everyone was just so nice and down-to-earth – that’s not always the case here in L.A. – it’s a lot colder, harder, and scarier.”
Down credits her parents for giving her the strength to cope with the challenges she faced in her new life.
“Thank goodness for my solid upbringing because I was able to keep to my roots, stay on the straight and narrow, and work hard to achieve what I wanted.”
Her mother, Linda, says Downs is living her life-long dream.
“In third grade she said she was going to move to California and become an actress,” Linda says. “She always had the drive to succeed, no matter what she does.”
Downs says when she arrived in L.A. she had no idea how to break into the film industry.
“I entered beauty pageants,” she says. “Not that I wanted to be a beauty pageant competitor, but it was a great way to meet people and get scholarship monies.”
Downs ended up winning Miss USA- Los Angeles, California.
“It was a big honor,” she says.
It was also her “lucky break”.
“One of the producers on the soap opera Days of Our Lives was a judge and I ended up getting a small role that lasted for five years on that soap opera.”
Downs played Carla, a cocktail waitress at Shenanigans, the local cafe and bar on the popular day time series.
She briefly returned to the show years later in the role of a totally new character, Marge, the owner of a local health care clinic.
“It was a great great experience for me,” she says. “You become a family when you work on a set like that because you work very long hours, and you get to know each other very well.”
Downs is humble about the success she’s achieved in Hollywood. She says it’s a matter of talent, skill, and luck.
“Looking back, I can see that I was very lucky to get that part,” she says. “There are a lot of talented people out here in L.A. and very few of them get the break I did. I was very lucky.”
In addition to her work on Days of Our Lives, Downs also produced the TV movie, Post Modern Romance in 1998 under her legal name – Alena Mekelburg, and in 2003 she won a daytime Emmy for producing the Wolfgang Puck Show on the Food Network.
Despite her successes, she says it’s really difficult “to make it” in the movie industry.
“I always tell young people who are interested in getting into the business, it’s one thing to wake up in the morning thinking about being an actor, writer, or producer, but when you get rejected if you still want it, then that’s when you know it’s what you’re meant to be, but if you can’t take rejection, it’s not the business for you, cause it is really hard.”
She says perseverance is key to making it in Hollywood.
“My ex-husband wrote an Officer and a Gentleman, and that film circled for eight years from studio to studio before it found its home at Paramount Pictures,” she says. “ When it found its home, it became a blockbuster, but before that happened, he got rejection after rejection, but he kept at it.”
After working over three decades in the film industry, Downs says she now frequently faces age discrimination.
“I’m better trained now than I was at 19, but it gets harder as you get older because of the ageism in Hollywood,” she says. “That’s why I started writing and producing my own stuff.”
While Downs may have circumvented the film industry’s age bias, she isn’t content to allow it to remain the status quo.
“Ageism should not exist and we need to work together to try to erase it,” she says. “I have a group of lady friends out here who are activists, and they’re working to get rid of it in show business, but it’s in every business, in every state, it’s everywhere, and it’s not right.”
To keep herself motivated, Downs says she relies on those closest to her.
“I have circle of family and friends who really support me,” she says. “My husband and daughter are my cheerleaders, and I’m part of a small group of actors and writers who support each other and encourage each other because it is such a hard business. I think it’s really important to surround yourself with positive people. People that share your morals. If you do that, you’ll have a strong faith-based group of people who encourage you and are happy for your success, and who will be there for you when you’re struggling and not doing as well.”