- Howdy, Neighbor! is a screenlife thriller centered around a former child actor whose life spirals into terror when a new neighbor becomes obsessed with him.
- The movie features an ensemble cast of former Disney Channel stars, including Matthew Scott Montgomery, Debby Ryan, Alyson Stoner, and more.
- Director Allisyn Snyder reflects on her experience working on A.P. Bio and discusses the challenges and rewards of shooting a screenlife production.
One man’s child acting past is back to haunt him in brutal fashion in Howdy, Neighbor!. The screenlife thriller centers on a former child actor living in Los Angeles whose life begins to spiral into terror when a new neighbor moves into his apartment complex and has a dark obsession with him.
Former Disney Channel star Matthew Scott Montgomery wrote and leads the ensemble Howdy, Neighbor! cast alongside fellow network alums Debby Ryan, Shayne Topp, Damien C. Haas, Alyson Stoner, Kevin Chamberlin, as well as Hellraiser‘s Adam Faison, Greer Grammer, Tim Bagley and Kimmy Shields. Directed by another Disney Channel alum and A.P. Bio star Allisyn Snyder in her feature debut, the movie is a chilling reflection on the child acting industry and the dangers it presents for their later lives.
In honor of the movie’s Screamfest 2023 premiere, Screen Rant spoke exclusively with director Allisyn Snyder to discuss Howdy, Neighbor!, reuniting with her Disney Channel friends for the thriller, the challenges of shooting a screenlife story and her experience on A.P. Bio.
Allisyn Snyder Talks Howdy, Neighbor! & Reflects On A.P. Bio
Screen Rant: I’ve been a big fan of your work since A.P. Bio — admittedly, I had grown out of Disney by the time you had come on board with Sonny With a Chance, but I love what you’ve done with Howdy, Neighbor!. Now, I know you and Matthew Scott obviously go back to So Random!, but when did he first approach you with this, and what about it made you want to make your feature debut with this?
Allisyn Snyder: Well, thank you so much for the kind words. First of all, Matthew Scott was immediately one of my best friends as soon as I met him on So Random!, I had never met anybody who loved to laugh and scream as much as me. We both just love spooky things, and we love comedy, and I love his annual play Spook Night, it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever attended. I kept begging him, “Please write something for me to direct,” and he wrote a short film called Don’t Turn Off The Ghost Light that we shot together during quarantine, and it was just so much fun, it went so well. I was like, “You gotta write a feature now!” So, he was able to, unfortunately, dig from personal experience that I also related to, as well, of just growing up in the industry, having those parasocial relationships. This film is all about watching somebody get stalked both in person and online, and I think that was something that we were the perfect people to tell that story.
Now, you mentioned that he wrote it, but I’m curious how much input you actually had into the story and the script, given you had, like you just said, a shared experience with him of growing up as a child actor and having those kinds of fans?
Allisyn Snyder: Yeah, absolutely. So, Matthew Scott is definitely the writer on it, he wrote it, he would send it over to myself, and Dylan, and our producer, Chaz. We would all read it and obviously give notes and talk about it. It was still always Matthew Scott’s words, he has a very iconic way of speaking, it reminds a lot of people of like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, how there’s sort of like a world lingo. So, I wanted to make sure that it was still Matthew Scott’s words and his story that he wanted to tell. But we all contributed to the classic beats and horror moments. We had really a lot of fun developing the villain character, I think that was my favorite part of really digging into Bucky, this little farm boy that he played on television that is coming back to haunt him. And the actor who plays our Bucky is Grant Jordan, and he was just so much fun to work with. I think my biggest contributions were just sort of taking Matthew Scott’s material and just deepening it of saying, “Okay, let’s use this as the fun surface layer, and then talk about what the audience isn’t seeing and what this guy’s backstory is.”
I love that you got to have that collaborative process with him, and Matthew Scott, as great as he does with the writing on this, he also brings such a likable presence to the lead role. Was it always in your mind to have him star in this as much as write it, or was that kind of a discussion you two had as the development of this went on?
Allisyn Snyder: Yeah, 100%. This was something that Matthew Scott wrote with himself in mind, and it was the kind of thing where we wanted to collaborate together in that way, him as an actor, and me as a director. So, that was a big thing for us throughout the whole, the whole filmmaking process of, “Let’s figure out how to make this movie the way that we want to make it.”
Now, one of the things that I find interesting about the way you made this movie is that it’s entirely a screenlife production. It’s a genre that I’ve loved, even before Unfriended went and made it popular with movies like The Den before it. I’m curious if that was immediately in your mind to make this a screenlife production, or if that was in Matthew Scott’s mind when he was writing it?
Allisyn Snyder: Yeah, I mean, Matthew Scott writes very fast, so it’s hard to remember exactly the order of how things came together. It sort of feels like he just latches on to an idea, and the whole thing manifests around that. But the screenlife element was something that, in the script, it would just say, “Texts go by saying things like this and that,” and it wasn’t always super detailed, particularly with things like live feeds, where there’s a lot of comments rolling by. That was something where it wasn’t until the post-production phase that we really had to worldbuild the online side of things. We had all the pieces in place for the FaceTimes with the actors and the Zoom calls, but we had a lot of malleability, actually, with the script in the post-production phase, because of how much of it took place on screens.
That’s awesome. Now, did you find that to be a more challenging method of production given that, in your past, you’ve done a lot of shorts that are maybe more traditional shooting?
Allisyn Snyder: Yeah, it was definitely a challenge. I know the burden fell primarily on our tiny VFX team to really mastermind that whole thing, but I’m really proud of what we accomplished. Just reimagining what that world would look like, a big thing for us was we wanted the phones to be horizontal rather than vertical. That was something that — I didn’t want the black bars on the side, and just sort of reinterpreting what things would look like if you twisted them to the side. I think it works pretty well, it feels pretty natural, I would say. Every film is going to have its challenges, and this one was easy in terms of, ‘Oh, it’s one actor in one room,” so the shooting process, we knocked it out in 10 days. So that part of it was easy, and then, of course, the year of post-production following it, it was like okay, there’s a give and take. [Chuckles]
Well the work shows, it’s a very impressive looking film with that amount of time spent on it. Now, I love the cast that you’ve built around Matthew Scott, I loved seeing Alyson Stoner, I was a fan of theirs in Suite Life of Zack and Cody, I almost didn’t recognize them at first, but then I thought it was really cool to see them in the cast list. What was it like building the rest of this cast?
Allisyn Snyder: My gosh, it was really a dream come true, because these were our best friends and our co-workers, people that we’ve grown up with in the industry, and to be able to reach out to them with a script that was so personal to us, and that they also resonated with as well, and just find a new way to come back and work together as a group was just so fun. Debbie was really the one that once we got her signed on, everything started to kick into high gear of, “Oh quick, we got to make sure we have a location and then sort everything else out around her schedule.” So that was a really exciting casting moment to get Debbie on board. Everybody else, they’re all really close friends of Matthew Scott, I know my castmates, Damien and Shayne, from So Random! as well, they play some cops in the film, and that was so much fun to have them in there for one morning for that scene. And working with Alyson Stoner was really fun. They’re not in Los Angeles anymore, and so we drove further out to go meet them up at some little mall that was halfway in between, and it was a really quick. I think we were there for like an hour, only 10 minutes of that was shooting, the rest was just hanging out and talking and catching up. Yeah, it was just something where there’s not the 45-person crew and the hubbub and the quick, “You got to move on.” It was something where we really got to just sit down and enjoy creating with each other.
It sounds like a very rich experience to have with, especially with a bunch of creative friends! Now, speaking of Debbie, I love her charisma that she shows throughout this whole movie, ad you mentioned that once you cast her that you kind of had to move things along quicker. Did that lead to any script reworkings in order to either have her more in it or have her less in it based on her schedule?
Allisyn Snyder: There were no adjustments to the amount that she was in the script. Debbie actually wanted to be very involved in creating the Harley character, and so I remember she had read an early version of the script. She was actually in a table read that we hosted because Matthew Scott, after he wrote the script, just wanted to hear it out loud, so he just recruited his friends, Debbie being one of them, and just fell in love with hearing her read the lines and was like, “Please will you please play this role?” She really wanted to make sure that it was a fully fleshed-out character with the personality, she helped pick out all the wardrobe, and designed the hair and the look and everything for it. It was cool to see her get so excited about the character and infuse so much of herself into it.
That’s fantastic, she really does just make that character pop on screen. Now, you mentioned the villain character earlier, Bucky. Even though he’s supposed to be from a sitcom, he’s terrifying to look at. What it was like developing the look for that character?
Allisyn Snyder: Yeah, absolutely, so Matthew Scott and I had talked about what we wanted Bucky to look like, and Matthew Scott’s brother, Daniel Montgomery, is a really talented artist, and he drew up some sketches of what that might look like. Then, when it was getting to crunch time, we were looking at different places that print masks and what we just could even source in time. My husband Dylan and I went to this local mask maker who prints vinyl masks, and we were asking about, “How much it would cost to actually build out the shape of a mask?” It was not even close to within our budget, so we were like, “What else do you have? What could we buy?” He had this clown mask, which is why Bucky has such a bulbous nose, so he had this clown mask and I painted it to match Daniel’s kind of imagery and to look a little bit like Matthew Scott, but of course, a creepy version.
I love that DIY approach, it’s what made Michael Myers so iconic, with the William Shatner mask done over! What would you say was one of the most creatively rewarding takeaways that you had from this movie?
Allisyn Snyder: I was just so happy that we pulled off the way that we wanted to tackle screenlife. I didn’t want to do glitchy effects to mask cuts or anything, I really wanted it to feel like you’re actually on a FaceTime, so we wanted those long one-shots. So when you watch the film, it’s not like other one-shots where the cameras moving all throughout the house, and it’s like, “Wow, what a crazy one shot they pulled off.” But it’s seven-minute scenes of actors just talking to each other, and we didn’t film those at the same time on the same days, just due to actor availability and location availability. What we did is we made it kind of like a musical, where everybody was performing to tracks, and so we rehearsed everything extensively ahead of time. Then, Dylan went in and dipped the audio of each person so that they would have their scene partners’ dialogue to rehearse with, and then just little gaps in between. Anybody who’s done a self tape with themselves will know what that’s like.
I can only imagine both how awkward it must feel but also how exciting it must feel to get to do it.
Allisyn Snyder: It was challenging, it was something that I don’t know if I prepared the cast for it well enough by really explaining to them what was happening ahead of time. I know some of them picked up on it a little quicker, but I remember specifically Kevin Chamberlin, when we were working together, he would get towards the end of the scene, and then there would be like one mess up, and then he would keep going, and I’m like, “Oh, Kevin, I need you to go back to the top of the scene.” He’s like, “You can just cut it.” I’m like, “No, Kevin, you don’t understand, we can’t cut this.” And then, we had a screening out in Palm Springs that Cinema Diverse, and Kevin was able to come with his husband and he watched it, he was like, “I see, I see now Allisyn, that makes sense.”
Well, I love the strides you took for this movie, they really all pay off very well. And now the movie’s about to premiere at Screamfest. How are you feeling leading up to its premiere after this whole process?
Allisyn Snyder: Oh, my goodness, it still feels a little bit surreal, especially at the Chinese Theatre. I’m just nonstop geeking out. This has been just an absolute dream come true, and to be able to send out a text to friends and family saying, “My directorial debut is screening at the Chinese Theatre, come out and see it,” is just — I’m gonna be crying like a baby the whole night.
Well, it’s a well-earned debut! Do you now have plans to continue down the horror genre road in the director’s chair, or do you want to explore other genres?
Allisyn Snyder: Absolutely. I’m constantly creating, and I will definitely be directing, my husband directs as well, we’re working on his directorial debut as well. I’m also directing a play coming up called Nothing Special, and that’ll be happening in November. It’s all about Edie Sedgwick, and Andy Warhol and his factory from the ’60s, and just kind of art and life then versus now. That’s a fun little thing that we’ve been doing amid the strike to keep everybody sane and creative.
Well, I’m glad that you were able to find a creative outlet during that very troubling time. Before I let you go, for my final question, like I mentioned at the top, I was an A.P. Bio fan, I was disappointed when it met the axe. What is it like for you looking back on that experience where you jumped from NBC to Peacock and still were getting so much praise from critics and audiences?
Allisyn Snyder: Thank you, yeah, that was quite a wild ride working on AP Bio. The jump over to Peacock was something that made sense, and we had been saying for ages [it should happen], especially with Glenn and Patton and our demographic, we were like, “This show should be on streaming, I don’t know why it’s on the main channel.” [Laughs] But yeah, Peacock was a perfect home for it, and our fourth season was quite a blast, it got pretty crazy. I had a character named Janet Fist on season 4 that I’m not sure if Mike O’Brien based it off of me and my web series or not that I’d been running at the time, but it was a dream come true to be able to play Heather playing a character.
About Howdy, Neighbor!
The famous family sitcom, “Howdy, Neighbor!,” is coming back to haunt Benjamin, a queer actor living in Los Angeles who still gets recognized for his starring role as Bucky the farm boy. His world is turned upside down when his new neighbor, Chase, reveals himself as a huge fan. As the lines between friend and fan are blurred, Ben begins investigating why Chase looks so oddly familiar.
Howdy, Neighbor! just made its debut at Screamfest 2023 and is awaiting a wide release date.