‘The Revolution of Cassandra’ created by filmmaker Eric D. Howell
Eric D. Howell is a filmmaker who has recently also become an author. He took the award-winning screenplay he had written and turned it into a graphic novel of the same name. The graphic novel is called The Revolution of Cassandra and also inspired a song called “Use My Voice” which was created by Amy Lee from Evanescence.
Howell also has a partnership with Republic Restoratives Distillery and Craft Cocktail Bar in Washington, D.C. which donates money from the sale of every Purpose Rye bottle. The money goes to Fair Fight Action which works to protect free & fair elections throughout the country.
We had the opportunity to interview Eric D. Howell about his filmmaking career and The Revolution of Cassandra – here’s what he had to say.
Tell us about your journey into film. What did you do before becoming a filmmaker?
I started in film when I was 18 years old as a mechanical special effects tech rigging stunts, so film has been my primary career most of my life. Other work included martial arts instructor and ski boot fitter and lift operator.
I also did a stint as an armed driver for a private security company where I could use my precision driving skills in an unmarked Ford Mustang!
Is there any particular film, TV show, or story that inspired you to become a storyteller yourself?
Growing up, I traveled around the world to places like Indonesia, Great Britain, Korea, and others to visit my mother. She had this ever growing collection of VHS tapes that she would pirate from the library when back in the U.S. Old movies became my television when I was with her.
The first big-screen experience that made me excited about storytelling was Close Encounters of the Third Kind; it took my breath away. While I made plenty of Super 8 movies as a kid, I had no idea one could make a living in the business until I got hired on my first feature Drop Dead Fred. I was hooked by my second job which was for Prince on the “Diamonds & Pearls” music video.
What was the first project you worked on, and what was your experience like?
It was the feature film Drop Dead Fred. I was living on a houseboat in downtown St. Paul, and the special effects crew showed up to prep a large boat to appear to sink for a big adventure set piece.
I helped the crew out with my work boat and ended up with a job on the special effects crew. That turned into a long run of many features, commercials, and music videos working as an effects tech, stunt man, stunt coordinator, and eventually a second unit director.
Who are your current influences?
I’m not sure that my influences have changed much, but of course, always added to . . . Cartier Bresson, Alfred Hitchcock, Sam Mendes, Roger Deakins, Pink Floyd, Adam Duritz, Jean-Pierre Gibrat, Amy Lee Hartzler, Eyvind Earle, Eddie Murphy, Kahlil Gibran, Erik Larson, Michelangelo Caravaggio, Ed Hopper, Auguste Rodin, along with a million others, but frankly, my real influencers are the people and places that I directly interact with on a daily basis. As a younger man, I was much more greatly influenced by the work of others; now I’m more influenced by my experience with others.
Name five graphic novels you think everyone should be reading right now.
My current favorites are by Jen-Pierre Gibrat’s The Reprieve and Flight of the Raven. These are the kinds of stories and aesthetics that I really gravitate toward in a graphic novel. The Theory of the Grain of Sand and The Leaning Girl in The Obscure Cities series by Schuiten & Peeters are right up there for a truly unique reading experience. Currently I’m enjoying The Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi with my 8-year-old son. Road to Perdition by Collins and Rayner is one of my favorites.
Do you have any experience with mentors? Do you recommend them for up and coming storytellers?
Mentors come in all shapes and sizes and often only in reflection did I recognize their powerful influence. Certainly I have teachers, in particular my screenwriting professor, to whom I find myself in constant gratitude for.
With regard to storytelling, so much of the technical stuff, in film, photography, and graphic novels, are things that anyone can learn with enough time spent on YouTube.
For me, the greatest mentors have been the ones who have taught me about my own voice and how to express it with clarity. The tools of how and what are relatively easy; my true mentors have taught me about my why.
Do you listen to any music to help you get into a creative mood?
I’m all over the board with music and have a playlist on Spotify for every project I’m working on. For The Revolution of Cassandra, I’ve created a playlist of songs that influenced my writing [of] it. Amy Lee collaborated in adding to this list with her favorite “songs of revolution”, you can check it out here: Cassandra’s Revolution Trax.
Walk us through your creative process.
When writing, I’m always starting with an ending or a catharsis that I want to convey. If I start writing without knowing of where I’m going, I tend to flake out. I need to know what I want to say or talk about in order to create a world around it. For The Revolution of Cassandra, it was important to land the story in a single moment that everything is pointing toward.
It took many drafts to get it right, and when I finally made it, I got to experience this wave of emotion unlike anything I’ve felt before. Maybe it was the closest thing I could ever get to the emotion of giving birth, which . . . really isn’t very close at all, is it?
Where did the concept of The Revolution of Cassandra come from?
The primary influencer came from my travels documenting children living in abject poverty around the world. In countries like Indonesia, Burking Faso, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Peru, and others, I found the most amazing people living with seemingly nothing. They had such pride.
One day, I finished an interview with a mother and daughter, as they swept their dirt floor and began packing a bag of food, they told me that they were going to feed the poor. The experience of walking with them, through their slum, to the local dump where they fed a man making soup in an old paint can, will be with me forever. It was a true act of humanity and decency.
My previous short film and feature screenplay had focused on child soldiers and the effects that violence has on children, and I needed a spiritual lift. The characters of Casey (Cassandra) and her sister Moira offered me this window into a story that could have a strong ending catharsis, but delivered it in a popcorn action-adventure style. I needed to lighten things up and have some fun in a story without losing a sense of accountability to my observations of people whose voices go unheard.
Obviously you have experience with filmmaking, but what was the jump from writing a film to writing a graphic novel like?
The biggest issue in film is trimming the fat and finding the fastest and most efficient way to tell the story. In the graphic novel, I had the luxury of adding my own voice but didn’t want it to become preachy or droll.
It needed to be more literary, but not get bogged down. The vehicle for this came in the form of a young girl who serves as a bookend to the screenplay. In the graphic novel, she has a much larger role and was so much fun to weave into this story as a way to honor the medium of a graphic novel.
What was your experience like working on The Revolution of Cassandra like?
It’s been way more difficult than expected and also rewarding in ways a film isn’t. The process of telling the story is relatively the same as creating a film with a few exceptions. Beats and moments that work on screen certainly don’t all translate to this medium, but in the end, a good story is a good story, so that is what you lean on.
We had four illustrators, two colorists, a layout designer, and a letterer working at various moments in the book, each with their own perspective and ideas. Each of them has brought so much, so the challenge has been keeping everything in sync and telling the same story.
One of the things I did was engage with long time collaborators Jillian Nodland (producer) and David Weiberg (production designer) as a way to keep things synonymous and smooth. The result is that each volume has this personal touch that reflects the artists involved, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the results of the effort put into every panel.
How did Amy Lee of Evanescence find out about your project?
Amy had collaborated with me on the closing track of my feature Voice from the Stone. We really hit it off and had been looking for new opportunities to collaborate since. When I decided to turn The Revolution of Cassandra into a graphic novel, I sent her the script and asked if she would write the forward to the book.
Her response to the story was really strong, the biggest take away being about using your voice for what you believe in, not complaining about what you’re against. A couple of months later she sent me a first draft of “Use My Voice” and wondered if I could use it rather than a written forward. I was blown away.
Here is Amy’s perspective:
“Eric and I made a strong creative connection while working together on ‘Speak to Me’ for his film Voice from the Stone in 2015 and remained friends,” Lee recalls. “Eric told me he had a screenplay that he wanted to make into a graphic novel and sent it to me to read.
At the time, I only had the first part of ‘Use My Voice’ written, but the song and the novel seemed like they were from the same world. May it empower and inspire us all. This story is about honor, courage, fighting for justice, peace in a broken world, and most of all, hope for a better future. I hope you love the story as much as I do.”
What was your reaction when you found out Lee wrote a song based on The Revolution of Cassandra?
The song wasn’t based on the script, but she had many influencers [sic] around the creation. My sense from our conversations is that The Revolution of Cassandra provided a catharsis around the idea of being for something, not against everything. She was having issues with the chorus, so I think it played a small role in assisting a tone.
To be an influencer to a master artist like her is entirely humbling, and to be invited to direct the “Use My Voice” music video is something I’ll be forever grateful for.
Do you think you would ever adapt The Revolution of Cassandra into a TV series or film?
The screenplay has received lots of recognition on the competition circuit and is absolutely ready to head in that direction. Having an established brand in this film/TV production climate is essential for a story like this, and my hope is that we can find an audience for an action-romance franchise about two sisters changing the world around them. Seems like it could have an audience, but that’s for others to decide.
Could we see another graphic novel series from you in the future?
Very likely with this franchise. The Flight of Cassandra is next, taking these two sisters on another journey but with a crazy twist. Telling more would spoil the ending to this one, so I can’t say more!
What’s next on the docket for you?
There are currently two projects that I co-wrote in development. Exit 147 is a cat and mouse thriller that my partner and I got the option back on after years of waiting. We are funded and set for a spring 2021 shoot.
Another script we co-wrote is Killing Roma, an action-romance that’s like a cross between Lost in Translation and Leon the Professional. It’s quiet, sexy, and has some really tense action sequences to be shot in a to-be-determined old world city in Europe. Both are looking quite promising for production!
Who would compose the soundtrack of your life?
Ahh, my dear friend and super talented composer Michael Wandmacher, and of course, Amy Lee.
If any director could direct the story of your life, who would you choose and why?
I’d probably go with Sam Mendes, as I admire both his sense of intimacy and sense of scale.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Hopefully in that specific and precious moment; not thinking too far ahead.