I recently corresponded via email with horror actress, podcaster, and filmmaker Ali Chappell about her career and her various roles in the horror community. Ali’s directorial debut Verified is a hilarious social satire and short horror film about an Instagram influencer whose follower count gets a boost after she gets bitten by a zombie. Ali and I talked about how addictive social media can be, why it’s important to advocate for yourself as a creator, and what projects she’s working on now.
Ali, you’re an actor, a filmmaker, and a podcaster, among other things in the horror world. How did you get started with your love for horror?
Ali Chappell: I started at a young age. I had an older brother who let me watch scary movies with him. I read Goosebumps and Fear Street books. I strolled the aisles of video stores picking out VHS tapes based on the cover art. Dead Alive is always the one I remember. I was just the weird, creepy kid growing up, and all I wanted to do was spend my days watching horror movies. I tried writing scripts for horror movies at age 12; I recently found them, and WOW they are not good. I would like to think I have become a better writer since then.
Your short, Verified, is a biting (pun intended) short film about a social media influencer who gets attacked by a zombie. Can you talk about the inspiration for the film and any challenges you faced while making it?
AC: I am definitely one of those people who scrolls through Instagram way too much. Doom scrolling is the new boredom. And I have a number of friends who are doing whatever they can to become influencers. Some are doing very well (like my lead actor, Arrielle Edwards, whose handle is @claruspolaris — check her out!), and some aren’t doing great. But watching everyone try and do what they can to get more likes and follows is fascinating. There have been so many studies about how likes give us serotonin, so we chase that social media high. Which truly is the dumbest sentence I have ever said, next to, “This gas station sushi seems fine.” But it’s true.
So I got this idea about a girl who ONLY has this going on in her life. She doesn’t really have friends or hobbies; she just wants that outside validation, so she livestreams her whole life. Then she gets bitten by a zombie (which is played by the real-life husband of Arrielle, David — check him out too @nerdynightly) and livestreams her death as she begins to decay, and that is how she gets her followers and likes. Because, truly, people will do whatever they can to get their numbers up.
The biggest challenge was making those livestreams. Filming it was easy, but adding all the filters and writing out every single comment and creating fake usernames and overlaying all of that to make it look like a real livestream was insane. I have nothing but props to my editor/VFX guy Trent Newton — he’s amazing. He really pulled it all together.
Verified is relatable to a lot of people who depend on social media for their livelihood. Can you talk about what it’s like trying to get your work noticed as a woman working in horror?
AC: Well, Instagram did that fun thing where if you typed in #horror it showed nothing and asked if you were okay? Like, fuck you. It’s a genre. Calm down, Instagram. And even now people are getting shadow-banned because technically it’s a banned hashtag. So you don’t show up in the explore page as much. It’s hard. You really have to find your niche. And outside of social media, you gotta hustle and and submit to film festivals and network like crazy, which during a pandemic was really hard because wow I do not like being on Zoom or in group chats. But since the last couple years have basically been 100% online, you really need to be tuned in at all times, otherwise people forgot about you and your projects. I think that’s true for everyone: like, you’re only as good as your next project.
Also, you gotta basically be your own publicist and just keep putting yourself out there. Probably more than what feels comfortable and be a bit shameless about it (that part I have no problem with, I’m very shameless). Like, straight up, I will just ask people if they want to interview me, or if they want to watch my stuff or if I can be on their podcasts. The worst thing they can say is no, and as an actor who auditions constantly, hearing no is par for the course. Everyone, please learn that: you will survive someone saying no to you. But if they say yes, then that is just another area where you can network and show off what you can do and get introduced to new people and spread your wildfire a bit further.
Ladies, be shameless. Have the confidence of a mediocre white man.
One of your podcasts, Let’s Scream!, focuses on female horror creatives. Why is it so important for you to highlight female creators?
AC: Ah! I love Let’s Scream! So I got involved with this because the amazing filmmaker and writer Maude Michaud out of Montreal was approached by Infamous Horror to do it and asked if she could bring me on as a co-host. Our goal is to create a virtual slumber party, because most women in horror I talk to did that as a kid and a teen growing up. They were the girl at the sleepover bringing in the horror movies. So we wanted to make a virtual version of that.
We felt it was important to talk to women in horror and bring more light and attention to them and help spread their names as best we can. We want to lift up and promote other women. Men get so much attention all year-round, but women seem to get one month and then it’s back to not giving them as much press for what they do and accomplish. Which is a ton.
Especially in the indie world, where it’s already hard enough just being in the industry with small-ass budgets, working on favors, paying hundreds to thousands of dollars to submit your films in the hopes that it plays somewhere where it will get seen by the right people to help further your career. Then fighting to get yourself to the table.
If we can help women out, in any aspect of horror; filmmakers, writers, actors, producers, podcasters, film festival programmers. That’s all that matters. Every little bit helps.
You’re working on a feature film at the moment. Can you tell us about it?
AC: Oh my God, I am so excited about this movie. I don’t know how much I can say just yet, but I can say that it’s filming in Sault Ste. Marie, which is in Northern Ontario. Very cute place. It’s based on a book (which if you happen to follow me, you will know which book, because I keep subtly sliding it into photos), and it’s all about possession, Satanic covens, and demons. And all that happens to me. It’s my biggest role yet, and it’s very physical and I am ready for it. I’m stretching every day while I break down this script and develop this character. I really hope everyone likes it. It’s a lot of work, but I think it’s going to be an amazing shoot.
If you follow me on social media (yes, I’m coming back to social media — maybe I am trying to be an influencer after all, but like a horror influencer), you will see me post tons about the shoot.
You’re building up quite a body of work in the world of horror, with all the different creative avenues you’re pursuing. What do you want your work to say to people?
AC: That’s a good one. I have no idea. I want people to know that I don’t give up and I’m hustling every damn day and won’t stop. I want to inspire people, not just as a creator or storyteller, but just as someone who is trying hard to fight to help build up other people around them too. We aren’t each other’s competition. When my friends succeed, that excites me. If I can help them succeed, even better. The table is big enough for all of us.
On a personal level, as someone who struggles with severe mental illness (BP and BPD), I want people to know that you are not alone. The struggles are real, but you aren’t an island and you can succeed too. We are here for each other.
Is there anything else you want readers to know about — other films you’re working on or other projects you want to highlight?
AC: I’m in post on my last film, Malediction, which deals with intergenerational trauma, suicide, and drug abuse. It’s very personal, not just with my story, but with aspects of my best friend’s life who I lost to suicide because of drug addiction, and there just being no support for people who live below the poverty line.
Otherwise, when I am done filming this feature, I will be diving headfirst into directing/starring in a few shorts I wrote to keep pumping out more content and getting my name out there more. Gotta keep the machine alive. Also still recording weekly podcasts with Hammer Pub podcast and monthly with Let’s Scream! and guesting on way too many other podcasts. Y’all are gonna get so bored with me very soon.
You can follow me for updates on projects and lots of behind-the-scenes on my socials @thealichappell — all right, I’m calling it, I’m trying to be an influencer for horror. Let’s just call it what it is. Also, as someone in their 30s, I’m also on TikTok now, and it’s just as cool as people say.
Thank you so much for your time, Ali! I loved Verified, and I can’t wait to see your other films!
AC: Thank you for having me! I love this so much.