What Was It Like to Work With Chris Kyle on American Sniper?

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Answer by Jason Hall, screenwriter, American Sniper:

I went down to Texas to meet Chris Kyle in 2010. I spent the weekend hunting with him and his son, getting to know his family a little bit, meeting his wife and watching him with his kids. I was watching this marriage, which on many ways was on a heal, reeling from this war that they had endured together, as well as the book, put together by Jim DeFelice, which had been dictated after that.

So we got a copy of that, and I got to start asking Chris questions about what was in the book, how it was put down, and then trying to clarify things that he had told me versus how they were said in the book. Getting to hear him express those in his own voice was a little bit different than they were presented in the book, even just months after they had been put down. Watching the change in perception in this man as he sort of found his way back was really fascinating.

I got to ask him everything. I got to ask him details and questions, from what kind of video games did they play to what kind of energy drinks they drank to where did they go to the bathroom on and off when they were stuck on the top of the building.

There was a line in the book about an enemy sniper. I kept pestering Chris about this guy, wanting to know more details about him. Sometimes I’d call him, and he would let the phone ring. Then I would get a text that said, “What’s up?” We would text back and forth. Sometimes he’d pick up, and sometimes he wouldn’t. Sometimes he would rather text than talk and wasn’t very chatty. But there was one time where he said, “Call Me,” and he proceeded to tell me the story.

The enemy sniper was Mustafa, whom he didn’t mention in the book by name, because he didn’t want to glorify the guy that had shot his friend. He mentioned that anytime a shot came outside of 600 meters, he would think that it was this enemy sniper that they’d had intel about. The sniper was reportedly in the Olympics in years prior to that. There was a sort of way that this guy occupied his head, and there were times that he felt he was really fighting him. The difference between a film and reality is that in film we can see who the enemy is. In reality, when you’re 600 meters away from somebody, let alone 2,000 yards, you can’t really see who you’re shooting. You know where the shot came from—sometimes. You can see the glare of the glass or the shape of the figure, but you don’t get the exact picture.

So it was much more of an intellectual duel between him and this guy. In many ways, it was about the way this other sniper occupied his head. I found that just fascinating, and it became a running narrative in the film. It wasn’t Chris’ time in theater (theater is what troops call combat). He spent a lot of time on the gun alone, silent. Anytime a shot came from a great distance, he felt it was this guy. So, I felt a big victory in being able to excavate that out of Chris Kyle, knowing it wasn’t something that he had chosen not to go into in the book. I felt it was very important. I did the research on it and had the State Department confirm it. Chris got a Silver Star for scope-on-scope action, and that was some of the scope-on-scope action that they were talking about. They awarded him that new star.

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