Articles

How The Screenwriter Behind 'American Sniper' Got It Right


Bradley Cooper as legendary SEAL Chris Kyle in "American Sniper." (Photo: Warner Brothers)

The first time screenwriter Jason Hall met Chris Kyle and his posse – Hall's first-ever visit to Texas – he was the only one in the room wearing tennis shoes instead of cowboy boots.

"I could feel the war on him when I shook his hand," Hall recounted. "It was a visceral reaction."

Also Read: 'American Sniper' Just Got Nominated For 6 Oscars — Here's Why It's A Must-See War Film >

Hall had heard about the legendary sniper – the man with a record number of kills and a 2,100-yard shot to his name – from another SEAL friend based on the west coast. He read Kyle's autobiography and found it written in the "blustery, chippy voice of a guy just back from the war."

But once the screenwriter met the SEAL in person he knew that a straight reading of the autobiography would result in a movie that didn't tell the whole story. There was a lot more to the man than a guy who knew his way around a rifle.

"He was 37, but he looked 57," Hall said. "The war had taken a toll." Hall noted how Kyle had trouble crawling around with his kids because his knees were shot.

Kyle's wife Taya – who'd weathered four war deployments on the home front – added another dimension. Hall studied her reactions to her husband, her concerns when his mood went south and how her face lit up when he was with their children.

"It was the idea of war at home and a marriage reeling in the wake of prolonged war," Hall said. "In that I saw a film."

So Hall came up with a proposal that he pitched to a few studios. In time he landed a deal with Warner Brothers that included Bradley Cooper in the lead role. Upon their first meeting, Kyle said to Cooper, "I need to drag you behind my truck and knock the pretty off of you."

Bradley Cooper with Jason Hall. (Photo: Jason Hall)

For his part Cooper said he was willing to do whatever it took to get it right. The actor started working on his Texas drawl, learning the weapons of a SEAL sniper, and gaining weight, ultimately putting on 44 pounds for the movie.

Hall worked on the screenplay for over two years, closely communicating with Kyle as he honed the various elements. Over that time the two developed a close friendship.

"I'd call him on his cell phone, but being the special operator he was he'd never answer the first time," Hall said. "He'd text back: 'What's up?' and then we'd talk for hours."

Hall discovered an Iraqi sniper named "Mustafa" while reading The Sheriff of Ramadi, and after a series of discussions with Kyle he added the enemy shooter to the plot. "Mustafa was Chris' doppelganger," Hall said. "He's an integral part of the story."

Kyle's state of mind was also an integral part of the story, but Hall was very guarded about falling into the trap that Hollywood's clichéd portrayal of post traumatic stress over the last 10 years or so has become.

"Chris saw a lot of combat and took a lot lives and lost brothers," Hall said. "He felt strongly that he should still be over there, even after his fourth tour. It haunted him."

Eventually Hall had a script Kyle and he were happy with. The day after he delivered it to the studio he received a phone call from one of Kyle's teammates, a fellow SEAL. The teammate's words will forever be burned into Hall's memory: "Chris was just murdered by another vet."

Hall attended Kyle's funeral unsure of the future of "American Sniper," the film. He felt out of place. The SEALs in attendance treated him as an interloper. He described his presence at the reception following the memorial as "showing up to a 'Sons of Anarchy' party in a white Izod."

Later Hall found himself sitting around a pool with a group of SEALs. None of them seemed interested in talking to him, so he kept his distance, fearing that whatever trust he'd built over the previous two years with Kyle was gone. Finally one of them looked over and said, "Why don't you get the hell out of here."

But Hall didn't leave, sensing he was at a crossroads of sorts. Instead he challenged the guy who'd told him to leave to a wrestling match. The SEAL took him up on it, and the two grappled on the concrete pool deck, drawing blood on knees and elbows in the process. Hall, who'd wrestled in college, wound up winning the scrap.

The ice was broken; trust was reestablished. "I realized the guys were hurting," Hall said. "They'd lost a brother."

During those sad days Hall also got an ultimatum from Taya Kyle, who knew that a major motion picture would play a big part in how her children remembered their father: "If you're going to do this you need to get it right."

The widow and the screenwriter established a line of communication much like he had maintained with the her husband during the writing of the screenplay, which proved to be invaluable in actress Sienna Miller's performance in the film and how the couple's relationship is portrayed.

Actress Sienna Miller plays Taya Kyle, the sniper's wife. (Photo: Warner Brothers)

Taya Kyle's input also informs how Bradley Cooper plays Chris Kyle. "If you want to know a man ask his wife," Hall said.

The last element in "getting in right" in Hall's opinion was having Clint Eastwood as the director of "American Sniper." After he signed on Taya related that Chris had said that if he had his pick, Eastwood was the guy he wanted to direct the movie.

"Clint is a jazz musician who brings musicality to the imagery as he tells stories," Hall said. "And he also has the western mythology down. He's part of it in America."

Bradley Cooper with "American Sniper" director Clint Eastwood. (Photo: Warner Brothers)

That sensibility was important in bringing art out of the otherwise barren and unpopular landscape of the Iraq War, according to Hall.  "Iraq wasn't a pretty war," he said. "It's ass-hot; you're thirsty and dirty. Clint found beauty in the truth of that."

The movie crew also underwrote the movie's realism by involving veterans in the production, most notably Navy SEAL vet Kevin Lace who started out as a stuntman and wound up playing himself and the wounded vets who appear in the target practice scene toward the end.

"American Sniper" had a limited run in theaters during the holidays, and the box office results were very encouraging and quelled studio execs' fears surrounding the track record of movies about the Iraq War. (Even the Oscar-winning "The Hurt Locker" didn't do that well, money-wise.)

But Hall feels that the journey he's been on with "American Sniper" – shaped by having to deal with the loss of his friend Chris Kyle – created something distinct and more universal than others have managed on the topic.

"'American Sniper' started as a war movie," he said. "But it wound up being a movie about war."

Watch WATM's exclusive one-on-one interview with "American Sniper" screenwriter Jason Hall:

More on this topic: 'American Sniper' Is A Must-See Film That Brilliantly Honors The Memory Of Chris Kyle

And this: Can You Name The Weapons Used In 'American Sniper'?

NEWS
Rosie Perper

Russia wants America's spot on the Human Rights Council

Russia wants a spot on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) following the US's withdrawal on June 19, 2018.

Russia quickly swooped in on the empty seat and put forward its candidacy for a three-year term starting in 2021.

"The UNHRC operates on the basis of the principles of impartiality, objectivity, non-selectivity, constructive dialogue and cooperation. It is a UN body that, like the entire UN system, is called upon to serve all Member States, not just one country or group of countries," Russia's UN mission said in a statement. "Unfortunately, our colleagues in Washington do not understand this or do not recognize it."

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

This Microsoft training fast tracks veterans into sweet tech careers

Solaire Brown (formerly Sanderson) was a happy, gung-ho Marine sergeant deployed in Afghanistan when she realized her military career was about to change. She was tasked with finding the right fit for her post-military life – and she knew she wanted to be prepared.

Injuries sustained during mine-resistant vehicle training had led to surgeries and functional recovery and it became clear Brown would no longer be able to operate at the level she expected of herself as a Marine.

Like many of the 200,000 service members exiting the military each year, Brown knew her military training could make her a valuable asset as an employee, but she was unsure of how her skills might specifically translate to employment in the civilian world.

Enter Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA), a program Microsoft started in 2013 to provide transitioning service members and veterans with critical career skills required for today's growing technology industry.

Keep reading... Show less
GEAR & TECH
Dave Smith

This video of a drone with a flamethrower will haunt your dreams

Watch the video in the tweet below. Are you experiencing both amazement and fear? You're not alone.

This video has been making the rounds on Twitter recently, but it was actually filmed a little over a year ago. According to Gizmodo, an electric-power maintenance company in Xiangyang, China, had been using these flame-throwing drones to burn off garbage and debris from electrical wires.

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

This band hires vets — especially when they go on tour

As veterans re-enter the civilian workforce, many struggle to make the transition. This is why opportunities (ahem — touring with famous heavy metal bands) for employment are so important. Five Finger Death Punch has made it a mission to offer such opportunities.

Keep reading... Show less
Gaming

How you can use your military skills in survival games

Military leaders loves to take their troops into the backwoods for a quick impromptu land navigation class. Even when troops should be gearing up for combat in desert environments, they still teach them how to survive in forests. There is a lot of cross-over things to consider, regardless of where you're at — like seeking shelter, finding water and food, how to create warmth, and survive the elements.

While it's great to have these skills in your hip pocket, it can also make you way too intense when you go camping with your civilian friends. They will, however, make you just the right amount of intense when you play a survival game.

All the fun of surviving in a zombie-infested hellscape without actually having to survive in a zombie-infested hellscape!(DayZ by Bohemia Interactive)

Keep reading... Show less
Veterans
Debbie Aragon

This veteran found his lifeline at the end of a leash

After battling night terrors and the pain and anxiety of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for decades, an Air Force veteran found his lifeline at the end of a dog leash.

Ryan Kaono, a support agreement manager in the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, vividly remembers a few years ago when he would regularly find himself in the depths of fear and despair; reliving troubling images from deployments as a security forces military working dog handler and later as a logistics specialist.

Kaono's wife, Alessa, said she felt helpless, with no idea how to help him.

"You see a look in their eyes that they're suffering but you don't know what you can do to help them. It's a terrible feeling watching someone suffer through PTSD," she said.

Those memories seemed so hopeless at times that Kaono attempted to end his life.

After taking numerous prescription drugs in 2010 in a bid to permanently end his pain, Kaono finally reached out for help and started receiving the support and understanding he needed.

Ryan Kaono, a support agreement manager with the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, takes his service dog Romeo for a walk around the building.(U.S. Air Force photo by Armando Perez)

"I had previously attempted (suicide) but this time I actually sought treatment," Kaono said.

After being hospitalized for his suicide attempt, the veteran began a treatment program at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Los Angeles.

"When I was first diagnosed, group therapy didn't work for me," the Hawaii-native said, "so I actually left the group and started volunteering at a (German Shepherd) rescue in California."

Tag ID: watmfs_728x90_970x90_300x250_320x50_InArticle1

Dogs had always played a part in Kaono's life from when, as a toddler, his family's old English sheepdog, Winston, picked him up by the diaper to deliver a wandering Ryan back to his front yard.

"I realized (while volunteering at the rescue) that the interaction with the dogs really made me feel better," he said.

Not content to just help himself, Kaono worked with the VA hospital to help other veterans interact with the rescue dogs and promoted animal therapy.

Keep reading... Show less

5 boring details a Space Force private will get stuck on

The Space Force is presumed to be exactly like our current military. Over-the-top recruitment videos will only lead to utter disappointment, just like any other branch. "You'll get to see the world," the recruiter will promise, but we all know you'll probably just be seeing it from a desk back on Earth. Even in many years when the need for space infantrymen comes up, it'll still be filled with all the same BS that happens down here.

Think about it. There will still be NCOs and officers who will still need to bide their time until closeout formation. The only difference will be that it'll take place 254 miles above the Earth's surface. And how will latrines work? Who will clean them?!

You know the answer.

1. Literally cleaning the ship absolutely spotlessly

Remember those novelty "space pens" that you can find at souvenir shops? The joke on the back is that America spent a butt load of cash trying to get a pen that could write upside-down and with zero-G's but those crafty Russians just used a pencil. Hate to burst that bubble but no one uses pencils in space for a very specific reason.

Any bit of dust or flakes caused by just regular everyday things, like pencil shavings, could mess with electrical systems while it's floating around in space.

That's just from man-made stuff... then you have to worry about the stardust

(NASA)

2. Vacuuming all that stardust

Of course no one down here can see it, but space is actually pretty filthy. There's plenty of dust on the outside the atmosphere from when the universe was formed and we can't go around with an unclean space ship. Most of it is microscopic but NASA astronauts regularly have to clean the dust or else it gets everywhere.

Any spacewalk done will suck in plenty of that minuscule specs of dust whenever the bay-doors open. When the astronaut comes back into the oxygen-filled area, the dust will follow. And some poor space private will have to vacuum all that up.

You can't honestly expect lieutenants to clean up after themselves when there are privates available, now can you?

3. Police calling space debris

All of this is just to clean up the inside of ship — there's also the outside. Satellites and other man-made debris deteriorate eventually and even a 1cm paint flake could zoom low orbit faster than a bullet. Those flakes can rupture panels and cause all sorts of hell on the ship.

This problem is magnified with even larger pieces of debris, like a baseball sized scrap of metal hitting anything at 4.76 miles per second. To prevent Newton's Second Law (force is equal to the mass times acceleration) from obliterating everyone on board, it's up to the space privates to handle it.

I want this globe spotless or no one is being released.

(NASA)

4. Container organizing... but in zero G's

At first, it seems like this would be so much easier in space. You wouldn't have to lift heavy things because it's near weightless now. And astronauts are notorious about taking only what they need into space. But that's the silver-lining. Trying to tie things down and organizing things to take up as little space as possible is the real problem.

A space private's Tetris skills will be checked as there isn't any room for open space.

Good luck finding that ONE serial number for the change of command layout.

(NASA)

5. Repairing the exterior of the ship

There is a diminishing return on enjoyment. The first time you go on a space walk, it'll be beyond your wildest expectations. Your 1,348th time going on a space walk to scrub the stardust off the window because the Colonel is coming won't be as great.

Even more high-stress would be making repairs on the spaceship. Any minor mistake and either you die alone or everyone gets sucked into the vacuum of space.

Imagine losing a wrench and sending it soaring into Earth's atmosphere.

(NASA)

GEAR & TECH
Christopher Woody

The Air Force is finally getting its long-delayed new tanker

The Air Force and Boeing have reached agreement on delivery of the long delayed KC-46 Pegasus tanker, with the two sides expecting the first aircraft to arrive in October 2018, according to Bloomberg.

Boeing's original deadline to deliver 18 planes and additional materials was August 2017, but the $44 billion program has been hit by numerous delays and setbacks, and the Air Force said this spring it expected Boeing to miss its deadline to deliver the planes by October 2018, with the first KC-46 not arriving until the end of 2018 and all 18 planes by spring 2019.

The delivery of the first KC-46 by October 2018 is two months earlier than the Air Force anticipated. Matthew Donovan, the Air Force undersecretary, told Bloomberg the timeline was "aggressive but achievable." Under the new schedule, the other 17 planes will arrive by April 2019.

The Air Force plans to buy 179 of the KC-46. Once it begins receiving them, the service will start phasing out its older KC-10 tankers. It will hold on to 300 of its KC-135 tankers, which average 55 years old. That would expand the tanker fleet to 479 KC-135s and KC-46s from the current 455 KC-135s and KC-10s.

A KC-46 Pegasus refuels an A-10 Thunderbolt, July 15, 2016.(Boeing photo by John D. Parker)

Under their contract, Boeing is responsible for costs beyond the Air Force's $4.82 billion commitment. But delays in delivery could mean the Air Force will have to keep 19 KC-135s in service through 2023 at a cost of up to $10 million a plane annually.

Tag ID: watmfs_728x90_970x90_300x250_320x50_InArticle1

The most serious problem facing the tanker has been the risk of its refueling boom scraping the surface of planes receiving fuel, which can damage stealth aircraft and potentially ground the tanker.

Other issues include the operation of the remote vision system, which is used to guide the boom; problems with the unexpected disconnection of its centerline drogue system, which is used to refuel aircraft; and concerns about the plane's high-frequency radio, which uses the skin of the plane to broadcast. The latter two issues were downgraded to category-two deficiencies early 2018.

Keep reading... Show less