You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Mixing Home and War: Anatomy of a Scene From ‘American Sniper’

American Sniper,” written by Jason Hall and directed by Clint Eastwood, had a 44-day shooting schedule on a budget of nearly $60 million. The Warner Bros. film, in association with Village Roadshow, earned six Oscar nominations, and has taken in close to $300 million at the worldwide B.O. so far.

The sequence: Much has been made of the nail-biting tension of the opening scene, where Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), his finger on the trigger, must decide whether to kill a woman and a boy who may or may not be suicide bombers. But another scene in the film packs an equal emotional wallop. Kyle, in Iraq, along with members of his SEAL team, is being shot at by a sniper named Mustafa as they try to save a boy being held at gunpoint by an al-Qaeda operative known as the Butcher. The action starts when Kyle is in the middle of a phone conversation with his pregnant wife Taya (Sienna Miller) in the U.S., who’s just told him they’re going to have a son.

The challenge: The five-minute sequence is chaotic, involving principals, extras, stuntmen, two Humvees, a dog and lots of gunfire. There were at least 150 camera setups in three days to convey the multiple storylines as Kyle tries to keep one foot in home life and one at work — balancing the news that he’s having a son while fighting for his life.

The location: Rabat, Morocco. Eastwood brought in about 150 cast and crew  for 12 days of shooting. The director, producer Robert Lorenz and Charisse Cardenas (production designer for the war scenes) scoured the city to find a space to accommodate the sight lines, spatial relationships and choreography for the scene’s multiple POVs. They climbed many flights of stairs to find the right rooftops, and Cardenas’ team added war rubble to the town square.

Training: Whenever possible, the production hired people with military backgrounds to serve as extras, and put everyone through weapons training. Military advisers conducted two boot camps. James D. Dever was senior military technical adviser; cast member Kevin Lacz, a former SEAL, also handed out advice.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch: In contrast to war-zone photography was the small-scale filming of Taya leaving the medical center. The sequence requires Miller to react to the sounds of battle that Taya could hear via cellphone.

Sound: Sound mixer Alan Robert Murray was “a stickler, making sure each weapon had its unique sound,” Lorenz says. So after filming, Murray went to the location and re-recorded each weapon separately to replicate the distinct sounds of the rifles, automatic weapons and the 50-caliber guns on the Humvees. Later, the sound-mixing team added multiple layers, which also included the sound of the vehicles, explosions, a guard dog — and dialog.

Editing: The trick for editors Joel Cox and Gary Roach was to get the balance right as they intercut the military action with Taya’s reactions at home. They also had to delineate activity involving four different focuses: Kyle; Mustafa; the Butcher, the boy and his father; and the other military members, including SEALs, Marines and a CIA agent. The editors’ job was to make the action clear and the emotions strong. Once they assembled the sequence, they kept tightening it for impact.

Popular on Variety

More Artisans

  • Game of Thrones

    Ireland Lures Filmmakers With Locations, Expertise and a 37% Tax Credit

    Few locations on earth can match Ireland’s proverbial 40 shades of green. In addition to its restful hues, the island nation also boasts alluring lakes, rugged windswept coasts, small charming hamlets, rustic farmhouses of aged stone, hilltop castles and breathtaking expanses of wild scrubland. Bustling and modern Dublin, Ireland’s capital, will be the largest English-speaking [...]

  • UNDONE Animated Series Amazon

    How Animated Series 'Undone' Used a Mix of Techniques to Tell the Mind-Bending Tale

    When Kate Purdy wanted to tell a story about the nature of reality, she knew she wanted to play with perception and time, fade in and out of memories and give voice to visions that only her main character could see. And it wasn’t long before the executive producer and co-creator of Amazon’s new series, “Undone,” [...]

  • John Wick: Chapter 3

    James Cameron, Keanu Reeves Starring in '2nd Unit: Invisible Action Stars' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Rootbeer Films has completed “2nd Unit: Invisible Action Stars” with James Cameron, Keanu Reeves, Mark Wahlberg and Halle Berry, Variety has learned exclusively. The film explores relationships between actors and stunt performers — a topic at the heart of Quentin Tarantino’s recent “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Joe Mantegna narrates “2nd Unit: Invisible Action [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    'Hustlers' Costume Designer and DP Joined Forces to Create Gritty Glamorous Look

    Mitchell Travers wonders if anything can really prepare a costume designer for working on a movie in which G-strings, double-sided tape and 8-inch platform heels comprise a complete outfit. But from the moment he began to read the script to “Hustlers,” he was in. “From the third page, I said I didn’t care what [any of the [...]

  • Joerg Pohlman to Leave Camera and

    Joerg Pohlman to Leave Camera and Lighting Company ARRI

    Joerg Pohlman is stepping down from the management board of Germany’s ARRI, one of the world’s leading movie camera and lighting manufacturers. The board will now consist of two people: Michael Neuhaeuser and Markus Zeiler. For the past eight years, every best picture Oscar winner has been shot on an ARRI camera; this year’s award [...]

  • Downton Abbey Movie BTS

    How the Production Crew Added Scope to 'Downton Abbey' for the Big Screen

    The feature continuation of “Downton Abbey” reunites the cast and much of the crew of the period TV series with a mandate to deliver more of the glamour, drama and just plain kindness that prompted millions of viewers on both sides of the Atlantic to fall under the spell of the sprawling Crawley family. “We wanted [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content