Disney Stalker Support Group

Child actor turned writer-director Allisyn Snyder on the real-life inspiration for her debut feature, the horror movie Howdy Neighbor!

N.B. This piece was assigned and completed prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike, but is only being published today.

Many people know me as Zora, an eccentric character I played on Disney with wacky socks and pigtails. If any kids who watched me grew up to be horror fans like myself, then they’ll get a kick out of my directorial debut, Howdy, Neighbor!, a screenlife stalker film that gives viewers a first-person perspective into the life of Benjamin Caldwell, a former child star struggling to set boundaries with a new neighbor who reveals himself as a massive fan. The writer and star is my former Disney castmate Matthew Scott Montgomery, who based this story on his own experiences.

Directing a film about a children’s television star who gets stalked by a neighbor was something I was, unfortunately, all too familiar with and could tackle from personal experience. I grew up in the entertainment industry, and people would stop my family in the grocery store to ask if I was the little girl from that Got Milk? commercial, or to let us know they loved me on Friends as one of Phoebe’s triplets. I lived a relatively normal life until I joined the ranks of Disney Channel child stars as a pre-teen. After being pulled out of sixth grade to be a series regular on Sonny with a Chance, it was clear that acting was changing my life, but my family did not anticipate that my work in comedy would turn my life into a horror story.

Allisyn Snyder and Matthew Scott Montgomery on the set of So Random in 2011.

With a quick Google search of my father’s name, an older man from Kentucky who felt a connection to me from watching my work found my family’s address and moved across the country to warn us of the approaching apocalypse. He lived in his van, which he parked on the street in my neighborhood, and he would leave letters taped to our door. He told my dad he had been following my career since I was around seven or eight, and So Random! was his favorite program because I made him laugh and he liked the clothes they put me in. He said he had barrels full of gasoline in his van and could help us get out of the city. The security team at Disney was concerned, so they put him on their radar and told us to document everything. They said it would be best for him not to see me, so I would duck down in the passenger seat whenever we were a few blocks away from home, and wait to emerge until we were behind the gate. Knocking on someone’s door and leaving gifts is not illegal, so even though the situation was uncomfortable, police could only step in if he broke the law … but by then, it could be too late.

I wasn’t allowed to walk around without adult supervision, so I stopped accepting invites to the mall. Unable to relate to my old school friends, I gravitated instead to young Hollywood, surrounding myself with child stars who also needed adult supervision due to similar occurrences with overzealous admirers.

With our new neighbor convinced that time was running out, I was sent to temporarily live with a friend while my belongings were moved in the middle of the night. We started a new life in a warehouse with no windows and no official address. We struck a deal with the landlord to section off part of the space and which we dubbed Suite B. Our front door could only be found by going through an auto detailing shop. It was frustrating that deliveries and guests could never find us, but a relief to have no more surprise visitors.

Allisyn Snyder during the making of Howdy Neighbor!

This experience and my years living like a vampire definitely impacted my psyche and my art. I’m very drawn to the horror genre, and enjoy being able to face my fears and tolerate my anxieties in a safe environment.

I met Matthew Scott at age 15 when he joined the cast of So Random! and we bonded immediately over our love of horror. A bit older than me, he took me on a deep dive of ’90s slashers and was the first person to show me Scream, now one of my all-time favorites and a heavy influence on the tone of Howdy, Neighbor! Collaborating with Matthew Scott was a dream, since we share many of our inspirations and have so much love and respect for each other.

Howdy, Neighbor! is reminiscent of Single White Female but with a cast of queer millennials and modernized through the lens of screenlife, unfolding on the phones and computer screens of our characters. We filled our cast and crew with fellow Disney alums who resonated with the material and were excited to reunite. The tiny camera department was run by my husband, Dylan Snyder, who many know as Milton from Disney XD’s Kickin’ It. Assisting him was our dear friend Joey Luthman, who had recurring roles on Kickin’ It and a slew of other sitcoms. The intimacy of the set seeped into the film. Jessie star Debby Ryan shines as Harley, Ben’s downstairs neighbor and lovable best friend. She brought such a warmth to both the set and the film. I anticipate many audience members will feel like Harley is their best friend after watching Howdy, Neighbor!, which is a bit ironic in a film commenting on parasocial relationships.

Debby Ryan and Matthew Scott Montgomery in Howdy Neighbor!

Another longtime friend and Disney alum, Alyson Stoner, has a very special role in this film, and shares a great scene with Matthew Scott that showcases how magical a positive fan interaction can be. I remember when filming, Alyson told us the line they were most excited to say was “You were our childhood!” They thought it was a trip to say words that had been said to them so many times. Alyson understood the material and perfectly captured how heartwarming those fan connections can be when the person is kind and respectful.

The brilliant Grant Jordan brings to life how nightmarish those interactions can become. Grant stars alongside Matthew Scott as Chase, an obsessed fan determined to insert himself into his idol’s life. It’s such a treat to watch Chase’s story unfold, thanks to the perfect combination of Matthew Scott’s well-crafted, suspenseful writing and Grant’s spot-on performance.

The set of this film created a space to talk about our shared experiences and became a stalker support group of sorts. I grew so much while making this film and found it therapeutic to turn my frightening childhood memories into art.

Featured image shows Kimmy Shields, Debby Ryan, Matthew Scott Montgomery and Allisyn Snyder on the set of Howdy Neighbor! All images courtesy Allisyn Snyder.

Allisyn Snyder is a writer, director, producer and co-owner of Watch The Footage (WTF) Productions. Her debut feature, Howdy Neighbor!, is now on the festival circuit. She began her career in the entertainment industry as an actress at only four years old, rose to prominence in her teens in the Disney Channel shows Sonny with a Chance, alongside Demi Lovato, and So Random, and is currently appearing in the NBC sitcom AP Bio opposite Glenn Howerton and Patton Oswalt. In her late teens, Allisyn began writing sketches for AwesomenessTV and created YouTube personality Astrid Clover, releasing a new episode every Friday for seven years while gaining a loyal following over 350 original episodes. In 2015, Allisyn formed Watch The Footage Productions with her now-husband Dylan Snyder and began writing and producing award-winning short films such as Nasty Habits and Room 566. When not in front of or behind the camera, Allisyn enjoys ocean scuba diving and roller derby, and studies the graceful and demanding art of trapeze with her younger sister Josie. She is a prolific artist, whose dark and whimsical characters have been invited to gallery showings since she was only 15 years old.