As the sun set on another day of documenting children in poverty, filmmaker Eric D. Howell wrapped up an interview with a mother and daughter in Peru. The pair swept their dirt floor, but to Howell’s surprise, also began packing up food. “Where are you going?” Howell asked the two women. He was astonished by their response: “To feed the poor.” The women made their journey to the local dump to find a man making soup in an old paint can. It’s an image that has stuck in Howell’s mind 15 years later.
“I wanted to tell a story in that world,” Howell said. With his latest creative endeavor, the graphic novel “The Revolution of Cassandra,” Howell hopes he has done that.
The vibrantly colored novel, which began as a screenplay from Howell, tells an equally vibrant story. In the six-volume novel, while trying to save her sister in the midst of a civil war in a fictitious country, the patchouli-wearing protagonist of the story, Cassandra, inadvertently starts a revolution.
But before the Roseville resident penned his latest headstrong female, he was telling stories through film.
Eric D. Howell, Roseville resident, stuntman, director, and now graphic novel author, directing “Voice from the Stone.” (Courtesy of Philippe Antonini)
Howell got his start in the Minneapolis film industry doing stunt coordination and precision driving in the ‘90s. After signing up for a naval ROTC program following his high school graduation, Howell opted to skip out on the program and move to Vail, Colo., with only $200 and a pair of ski boots. But he couldn’t stay away from Minnesota for long and spent every summer working on movies in Minneapolis before moving back, just five years after leaving.
In its glamour days of Prince in the ‘90s, Minneapolis was the perfect breeding ground for studio movies, Howell said. The productions that came to town were large, but still small enough that they didn’t bring in stuntmen, and Howell was able to fill the gap. Howell began as a special effects assistant, with no prior experience, before moving on to become a stuntman and stunt coordinator.
Not only would Howell build his career on movie sets, he met his wife on one. Mary Jo Howell was a makeup artist when the pair met on the set of a movie.
“People ask how I wrote these two sisters (Cassandra and Moira from ‘Revolution of Cassandra’),” Eric said, “and it’s really her split in two.”
Howell’s wife isn’t the only woman to inspire “The Revolution of Cassandra.” Female protagonists have played a pivotal role in almost all of Howell’s work, he said.
“I’m totally a guy with mother issues,” Howell said of his tendency to focus on female narratives, “I had a split family when I was 6 years old and my mother ended up having to choose divorce.” But Howell always saw his mother as a hero, citing work she did during the Civil Rights movement.
“Voice from the Stone,” a film Howell created in 2017, centers on a young and determined female nurse. What was originally meant to be a love story between a son and his dead mother was changed into a horror movie. Before the movie was bought by a distributor and turned into a ghostly romance, Howell introduced another mother to the project, Amy Lee of the musical group Evanescence.
Eric D. Howell, left, and Amy Lee working on the set of a video for Lee’s song “Use My Voice” for her band Evanescence. Lee finished the song after reading Howell’s graphic novel “The Revolution of Cassandra” and asked Howell to direct the music video for the “Use My Voice.” (Courtesy of Gregg Roth)
Lee was brought on to write the closing song for “Voice from the Stone” — “Speak to Me.” At the time, Lee had just become a mother herself and her trip to work on the film was her first time away from her son. Despite the trepidation, Lee found herself empowered and uplifted by the collaboration.
“For a director to be that involved with an artist is really rare. Music is usually an afterthought,” Lee said of Howell’s hands-on involvement. The creative spark between the two led to further collaboration.
When Howell reached out to Lee to write the forward to “The Revolution of Cassandra,” a song had already been brewing in Lee’s mind. As Lee read the novel, the song continued to take shape. “It feels like they )the song and graphic novel) were in the same world,” she said. Lee’s song “Use My Voice” came to fruition and the pair collaborated again when Lee asked Howell to shoot the song’s music video.
“He feels a lot of passion and inspiration from strong women,” Lee said of Howell. “For him to see his heroes in his head almost always as women, is really cool to me.”
While Howell says “Voice from the Stone” provided him with some of the best experiences in his career, and connected him to Lee, it was also a painful lesson in the limitations of the film industry.
“I think ultimately I’m a narcissist,” Howell said, “who is more interested in my own voice than serving the voices of others.”
When Howell brought his screenplay for “The Revolution of Cassandra” to his manager, who at the time worked with Anonymous Content, he was told no one would get behind it. The story was solid, but there was no brand to market the story around, Howell said.
By the time Donald Trump was elected in 2016, Howell had already completed the screenplay for “The Revolution of Cassandra.” Financers of Howell’s 2009 short film “Ana’s Playground,” which similarly dealt with conflicts of ideology and humanity in war-torn environments, reached out to Howell to create another narrative.
What followed was the graphic novel based on the screenplay. While it was important to Howell to keep his original content, by no means was the project a solitary one. In addition to the team Howell assembled for the graphic novel, he’s encouraged other artists to use his story to inspire their own story and art.
On the website for “The Revolution of Cassandra,” Howell has included a platform for artists inspired by the novel to share their work. Howell’s wife is one of the artists included on the website’s community page. She contributed a perfume inspired by Cassandra of Troy: another woman who inspired Howell’s latest story.
Volumes one through three of “The Revolution of Cassandra” are available online at revolutionofcassandra.com. A deluxe printed edition of “The Revolution of Cassandra” is set to be released in spring of 2021.
1992 — Howell joins the Screen Actors Guild as a stuntman and actor.
1994/95 — Howell moves back to Minnesota from Vail, Colo.
2000-2006 — Howell documents children in poverty in Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Peru, Costa Rica, Burkina Faso for NGOs. (*date range estimated by Howell)
2004 — Receives degree in screenwriting from the Minneapolis School of Cinema at Minneapolis Community & Technical College
2009 — “Ana’s Playground” releases
2010 — “Ana’s Playground” wins the “Audience Choice Award” and the “International Spirit Award” at the Sedona Film Festival and plays at more than 30 festivals around the world
2017 — “Voice From the Stone” releases
2018 — “The Revolution of Cassandra” is a top-three finalist in Final Draft’s Big Break Screenwriting Contest for a feature action/adventure screenplay
2020 — The music video Howell directed for “Use My Voice” by Evanescence releases. Amy Lee, the lead singer of Evanescence, finished the song after reading “The Revolution of Cassandra.”
2020 — “The Revolution of Cassandra” graphic novel releases online
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