What Research Did American Sniper Screenwriter Jason Hall Do for the Oscar Nominated Film?

What are the conversations like between you and the subject of your screenplay when you're in the research phase?: originally appeared on Quora: The best answer to any question. Ask a question, get a great answer. Learn from experts and access insider knowledge. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.


I went down to Texas to meet Chris 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 and 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 went, "Call Me" and 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 who was reportedly in the Olympic games 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 2000 yards, you can't really see whom 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 theatre ('theatre' is what the soldiers 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.

Jason Hall is a screenwriter and former actor. His screenplay for American Sniper has earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, and his past works include screenplays for Paranoia and Spread. Jason started out as an actor with guest starring and recurring roles on Without a Trace and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

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