WiHM Special - Shelly Skandrani

An accomplished and talented writer, director and actress, Shelly Skandrani has managed to move effortlessly within the industry at each junction as well as proving herself with standout titles in numerous genres as well. Now, in honor of Women in Horror Month, I talk with her about getting into the industry, her involvement in the upcoming anthology 9 Ways to Hell and other upcoming projects.

Me: Hello and thank you for taking the time to do this. First off, when did you get into horror in general?
SS: Funnily enough, I don’t watch a lot of gruesome horror films, not since I saw the original “It” and “Candy Man” as a teenager, where I almost broke my friend’s fingers I was holding her hands so tight! They scare me too much and then I get nightmares. At most, I can do a film like “Ready or Not” which is a bit of a thriller, and I thought was fantastic!

Even when I was sitting with the editor of my own film, Nick Dragon, who is also the main producer of the anthology “9 Ways to Hell” of which I am one of the writer/ directors, I was constantly freaking out when he showed me different effects we can add!

Me: How did you come to be involved in the industry? Was there any specific aspect that appealed to you?
SS: I actually started as an actress at the age of nine, in the theaters of London, which is where I grew up. I moved onto film when I was sixteen with a big supporting role in the Dustin Hoffman produced Holocaust film “The Devil’s Arithmetic”. Once I realized I could get paid for doing something I loved I was hooked. I then got my degree in Theater and Performing Arts and acted in many lead roles in the theater of Tel Aviv, Israel, and some roles in film and television.

When I moved to Los Angeles, and after a dozen acting roles here, I realized I wanted to do more, to be more involved in the message I was putting out into the world. I studied screenwriting at UCLA Extension and off I went to change the world through art!

Directing was something that came naturally from my understanding of story as a writer, having worked with actors for twenty years, and my natural ability to get things done - I’m a Virgo. I met great people who were able to fill in the gaps I had on the technical sides such as lighting, camera work and editing, and I learned a ton from them! I’d like to mention my uber-talented Cinematographer Gil Ben-Harosh who has worked with me on three films and always has great visual ideas!

I love doing all three, acting is my fun, writing is my sanity, and directing is my mission.

Me: Where did you get the urge to get into acting? Is there any specific type of character you prefer playing?
SS: I started acting before I really knew what it meant. I grew up with my dad in London, where the winters are cold and it gets dark early, and so you can’t play outside with friends after school. Being at the theater meant being surrounded by fascinating and exciting people, who had amazing stories to tell. The camaraderie of working together towards a common goal really invigorated me. I felt surrounded by friends and family during every play, where rehearsals lasted two months, and performances a month. I performed in two productions a year, so I actually spent six months of every year immersed in the theater, every evening after school, and all weekend long. It was magical!

I like playing roles with emotional depth, or personality quirks, whether in a dream or a comedy. Anything that can get my analytical brain excited. The more challenging and meaty the role is, the more immersed I can get and that’s when I get my best work out. I’m not as interested in the stereotypical roles that are often written for young women. That’s what inspires me to write. I want to offer more complex and exciting roles for young women.

Me: Having worked on plenty of short films early in your career, what tools and skills do you acquire working on those that transferred to future film projects?
SS: You learn how to work with people, and most importantly, you learn who the people are that you want to work with.

Communicating your vision to other people is a skill that you acquire with time, and doing that while being under the pressure of schedule restrictions, a shot list, and twenty people asking you questions can be challenging. Working on short films allows you to hone your ability to get things done quickly, efficiently and at a high standard.

Most importantly, I have found my crew, the group of people that came through, the ones that had a positive attitude, that came to help rather than feed their own ego, that saw a potential problem and quickly went to fix it. These are my comrades, the people I trust to go into battle with. Making a film is tough, and you need to know that your crew has your back!

Me: Having worked on various aspects of film production, do you have any particular preference for working on any?
SS: I love everything creative. As I said I act, write and direct, but I’ve also helped with wardrobe, been a script supervisor and wrangled extras. I really enjoy creating the space, I’ve been a set dresser on several productions, and even the production designer on a few of my projects. I love making my surroundings beautiful, at home, when I travel and onset. When I was a teenager I studied Design Technology and did an internship at The Chicken Shed Theater in London, where I helped them build the sets. Set design would have been something I studied at college, had I not decided to study acting, it was my second choice and I was already accepted to Tel Aviv University.

Me: That brings us to your latest project, "9 Ways to Hell." What can you tell us about the project? How did you come to be involved in the anthology?
SS: “9 Ways to Hell” is a really cool and quirky comedy-horror anthology film, based on the nine levels of hell in Dante’s Inferno. Any Dante fans out there?

Each level is written and directed by a different director and has its own unique voice, storyline and message. The diversity of our directors; which boasts, men, women, Latin Americans, African American, one Asian and even a Middle Eastern (myself), reflects and can be seen in the diversity of the stories and social commentaries that are presented in the film. Making it that much more unique and exciting.

Nick Dragon reached out to me and asked me to get involved. I was surprised because I hadn’t directed a horror before, but he said I had a strong voice, and that’s what he was looking for.

I had actually worked with Nick on several other projects as an actress, or a producer, and really enjoyed his energy and wisdom, so I trusted his vision and faith in me and jumped in!

Me: Where did the inspiration for your segment ‘Greed’ come from? Were there any unique stories about its conception?
SS: I wanted my segment “Greed” to be a deeper story than that of chasing money, which is how greed is usually perceived. More money means more power, so I wondered what else was a factor in gaining power, and then I realized that in America, beauty is power.

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I suddenly found myself surrounded by women who looked like they’d just come from a modeling shoot! They all had incredibly styled hair, professional make-up, a sexy dress, and somehow balanced all this on stiletto heels. In London, and in Tel Aviv, both cities in which I had lived as an actress, we dressed quite casually unless we had an audition or a show. In Los Angeles, women had to be “on their A-game” at all times. Men, of course, could dress however they liked. I quickly had to conform to this new standard, but it was exhausting and seemed very unfair. Over the years, and definitely during Covid-19, those standards have relaxed for me. I stepped away from that rat-race.

Greed is about a mother-daughter relationship. The mother is a trophy wife called Melissa (played by Ashiko Westguard), whose identity depends on her beauty, this is how she retains her power within her world. This need for beauty is so vital to her, that it creates a cold distance between herself and her daughter Olivia (played by Mia Komsky). In the film, Olivia tries to get close to her mother by engulfing what gives her power, her beauty.

Me: Being the writer, director and star of the segment, did it challenge you to be involved in various capacities at once on a project like this? How do you balance those priorities during a shoot?
SS: I actually didn’t act in my segment, I wasn’t right for the role, when you see Ashiko you’ll understand, she’s a goddess. I do, however, star in a different segment in the film called Fraud, which was written and directed by Derek Silvers, who is a wonderful director.

On Greed I was the writer, director and producer, which was challenging enough without also acting in the piece. Being the writer and the director actually work together well, because you’re doing half of the analytical work of the director as you’re writing the script. The challenge is producing while you’re on set directing. It means having to be alert to the needs of your actors and all the creative elements, while also keeping half of your brain occupied with logistics like when to heat the food for lunch, is everyone on time, does the wardrobe need ironing, is the paperwork signed, etc. I had help from my crew of course, and another producer on board, as well as support from Nick, that’s the only way to get anything done, filmmaking is a collaborative game.

Me: What was the set like while shooting the film? How did the cast and crew react to the type of film being made?
SS: The set was a lively one, filled with camaraderie, it’s one of the funnest shoots I’ve directed, especially when things got bloody... my segment had a lot of gore! Horror films in general are fun because you get to forget your inhibitions and try new things; becoming a monster or screaming like a victim. As a director I like to be there with my actors, delve in, so they know they are safe, that someone is spotting them, so it was really fun!

Me: Do you recall having any odd or funny on-set stories about yourself or any of the other cast/crew members?
SS: Well actually yes. I shot at a friend’s home. She took her kids and stayed with their grandparents for the weekend and let us shoot there. During the shoot, we had to be extremely careful with the fake blood and make-up so we didn’t leave any scary souvenirs, as her children were quite young.

At the end of the shoot, we had gotten rid of everything, except the rug I had brought, which was completely covered in fake blood and needed to be thrown away. Everyone was afraid to put it in their car in case it stained the seats. So we had to roll it up and put it out in the front path, for the trash trucks to pick up. It looked so dodgy! We were afraid the police might ask questions! I ended up leaving a sign on it saying “fake blood, filmed a movie” it was hilarious! Her kids saw it, but they weren’t freaked out thank goodness!

Me: What is the expected release date for the film?
SS: We honestly don’t know with the whole Corona situation. We had a really good festival run, with lots of award nominations and several wins. The people at the LA Live film festival said it was a “Quintessential independent film that embodies what collaborative creativity is capable of producing!"

With all the festivals being online last year, it was hard to meet distributors. So now we are reaching out to personal contacts. A few buyers are watching it as I type. Fingers crossed we will have some good news soon. If any distributors out there are Horror and Dante fans, please do get in touch!

Me: Beyond that film, what else are you working on, regardless of genre, that you'd like to share with our readers?
SS: I’m actually working on a lot of things right now, surprisingly enough, things have started to pick up again. I’ve acted in four projects already in the last two months!

I’m also joining a team of talented writers on an indie sitcom show called Mark’s Place. I’ll be writing for their second season! Season one is on Amazon Prime and is getting some lovely buzz. It’s about an Italian mobster from Chicago who moves to Palm Springs under the witness protection program. It’s really zany, with great characters, and I’ll get to act in it too! Watch out for Andrea.

Last year, I also wrote a memoir, which I’m extremely proud of because I was sure I’d have to be at least sixty before I’d have the patience to write that much!

It’s called “It All Began in Africa” and is a spiritual and philosophical memoir about a mother-daughter trip to Tanzania that I took last year with my mother. We went on an 8 day Safari Jeep Tour. I use the daily experiences and the behavior of the local animals, plant-life, and villagers to reflect upon my own life; my childhood, having grown up in London separated from my mother, my relationship with my father, past relationships, being an immigrant, the disillusionment of the American Dream, and the role of women throughout different cultures (African, Israeli, British, American) in both modern and traditional societies. I also include a few of my poems in it. I am currently editing it, before sending it to a few agents. Hopefully, it’ll be on bookshelves in the near future!

I’m in post-production on a dramatic thriller short called “Community”, which speaks to the pain and trauma of rape victims and has some very shocking twists. This is a proof of concept for a feature film, which I also plan to direct. And there are a few other projects in the works, that I cannot discuss yet, but are really exciting!

This year is going to make up for last year, for myself and a lot of people that I know. We’re all ready to get back to creating and entertaining!

Me: Lastly, being that this is Women in Horror Month, what special message do you have for any women out there looking to join in the industry in any capacity as you are one yourself? Thank you again for your time!
SS: I would say write a script, get your friends together and make it. Don’t wait for any validation, don’t wait for permission, don’t apologize for having an opinion, and get used to being a decision-maker.

I believe that many women have been taught from a young age to please others, to be sweet, and not to “make trouble”. We need to stop apologizing for our vision, we need to be confident and assertive. This is an ongoing challenge that I face myself, but luckily I have met some supportive people along the way and learned some tough lessons, and together they help me push forward.

Thank you so much for taking the time to get to know me and my work.

I wish everyone a year of health, inner peace and a sense of fulfillment!

For more about me:
IMDB - Shelly Skandrani
Instagram - Shelly Skandrani

9 Ways to Hell:
Website - Ashiko Westguard
IMDB - Mia Komsky
IMDB - Gil Ben-Harosh

To get an even better idea of her talents, check out her directors' reel:

This interview ran as part of our Women in Horror Month celebrations. Click the banner below to check out all of our reviews and interviews about the occasion: