How 'American Sniper's' Trailer Tapped Into Chris Kyle's Emotional Journey
The head of the agency that helped create the second official look at the film talks about the role of music and what his firm and Warner Bros. sought to accomplish through the suspenseful video.
Roughly a month before American Sniper hit theaters nationwide, the movie's portrayal of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) as a man struggling to balance his life in battle and his life at home along with the film's theme of the psychological toll of war were being promoted via American Sniper's second official trailer, which debuted online on Dec. 18, a week before the movie was released in New York, L.A. and Dallas.
The intense preview cuts between scenes of Kyle in Iraq and ones in which he's with his family, with a voiceover of a man asking Kyle if he's worried the more than 160 kills he's made will affect him. Suspenseful, ominous music soundtracks the two-minute, 17-second video, suggesting something dangerous will occur. The trailer has been viewed nearly 10 million times on YouTube and was created by Warner Bros. and Wild Card advertising agency, which specializes in film marketing and has worked on campaigns for films like Live Free or Die Hard, Avatar, The Town, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Life of Pi, Maleficent, Edge of Tomorrow, Interstellar, movies in the Planet of the Apes and X-Men franchises and fellow hit war film Lone Survivor.
Wild Card founder and CEO Nick Temple tells The Hollywood Reporter the agency and Warner Bros., with whom they have a long-standing relationship, collaborated to make this second look at the film a piece focused on Cooper's character and larger themes.
"[The trailer] was really a character study and it was really about a man and his family and his sacrifices and what one would go through. So it was always really focused on the emotion of the character and what his journey was," Temple says. "[American Sniper] really isn't just a war film; it would have been very narrow to approach it that way. It was about saying, 'OK, there's an opportunity here to really open this up and make it more about universal themes and themes that everyone relates to: family, sacrifice' and coming at it from that perspective."
Warner Bros. came to Wild Card and showed them a rough cut of the Clint Eastwood-directed movie about six-to-eight months before the trailer debuted, Temple says, giving Wild Card's team a look at the entire story.
"You really got to take it all in and see what the big canvas looked like as opposed to, on some projects, we start with the dailies and there isn't the rough cut yet, so you're going through the material and you're looking at literally takes. So it was definitely a more streamlined process," Temple says. "I think that lends itself very well to determining pretty quickly that this is the way that we want to go in creating the trailer."
Temple's own thoughts about the film are consistent with the trailer's approach. "To me the film was about Chris Kyle's personal journey and the two different worlds he had to exist in," he says. "That's something that will always stick with me."
But he concedes that after watching the film, "there would have been different ways to go with" the trailer. While the first trailer for the film consists mostly of the scene in which Kyle is aiming his sniper rifle at a woman holding a grenade, with just a little bit of Kyle at home, and what sounds like a heartbeat, the second trailer is much more packaged, including quotes from reviews of the film, and features an effective musical score.
Temple says the team working on the second trailer wanted to "create momentum and the music was kind of this emotional roller coaster."
"It was tense, but at the same time you were getting character beats and you were getting glimpses into what it was like for this character," he says.
The lack of music also has an impact, when it stops on the scene in which Kyle calls his wife from a bar in the States and says he "just needed a minute" and breaks down.
"You're almost sitting in the moment in that scene, and everything's built to that point," Temple says. "You just feel the weight of, you know, the burden of what he's gone through."
Temple says that, in general, music is a big part of the trailers Wild Card works on and is one of the ways a preview can connect with an audience.
"I think music is one of the things that we always start out with, and I know that when I'm cutting [trailers] or when the guys are cutting [trailers], we just sit here and talk about music for a while and put music to picture," Temple says.
That connection between the audience and a character or the story is one of the main things Wild Card seeks to accomplish with its campaigns.
"I think people can get overwhelmed with too many story points and I think a lot of people would say that sometimes they feel like teasers or trailers … give away too much," Temple says. "I think the best and most effective marketing is marketing that's bold and cuts through in a noisy marketplace and has a really clear message, I think that's really critical, it can't just be bold and weird and not be on point."
He adds that the same principles apply no matter where a trailer debuts, whether its during the Super Bowl or online or in a theater.
"It has to be engaging and it has to cut through and it has to be bold and it has to be confident," Temple says. "The takeaway's always the same, which is 'Wow, that was really effective. That was really a great piece of advertising. I want to go see that.' That's ultimately the goal."
Watch American Sniper's second official trailer below.