Edit This: 'American Sniper'
Issue: February 1, 2015

Edit This: 'American Sniper'

BURBANK, CA — Film editor Gary D. Roach has been working with director Clint Eastwood and fellow editor Joel Cox for 19 years. He began as an apprentice on 1997’s Absolute Power, and then became an assistant on Eastwood’s next show. 

“I was doing film dailies and all the Avid work, and moved up,” Roach recalls. “I was fortunate enough to sit behind Joel and Clint, and go to Clint’s facility when they would do Clint’s cut. I sat behind them for almost 10 years and then Clint told Joel, ‘It was time for Gary to start editing.’ It never really worked out until editingFlags of Our Fathers (2006). Clint said, ‘I am going to start shooting  Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) and I want Gary to edit it.’”

That was the beginning, Roach recalls. Cox went on to complete Flags of Our Fathers, and later joined Roach on  Letters From Iwo Jima. The two have been collaborating as editors ever since.

“We work well together because I know Joel’s style and what Clint likes.”

Working from Eastwood’s Malpaso Productions in Burbank, the pair spent time in 2014 cutting Warner Bros.’ critically-acclaimed film, American Sniper, which looks at the military career of Chris Kyle, who is considered the most lethal sniper in United States history, having killed more than 160 enemy targets. Bradley Cooper portrays Kyle, with Sienna Miller acting as his wife. The film shows the tough decisions Kyle is faced with while performing his duties and trying to protect his fellow soldiers. 

On the day Post spoke with Roach, the Academy had just announced its 2014 nominees.  American Sniper received six Oscar nominations: Editing (Gary D. Roach, Joel Cox), Best Picture (Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper and Peter Morgan, producers), Actor (Bradley Cooper), Sound Editing (Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman), Sound Mixing (John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin), and Screenplay (Jason Hall). Roach and Cox are also nominated for the A.C.E. Eddie Award in the Film (Dramatic) category.

Editors Roach and Cox

American Sniper was shot on Arri’s Alexa. Roach says that Eastwood typically employs a single camera, but this film was a bit different.

“Clint usually shoots with one camera,” Roach notes. “There [were] multiple cameras in this show, more so than other shows. They needed to capture all the action scenes, the war and the battle. Also, Rob Lorenz, who’s one of the producers, went out as a second unit and shot a lot of the stuff for the last battle scene.”

Roach and Cox worked from Eastwood’s facility, which has Avid NLEs and Unity storage. While they were not quite able to keep up with each day’s camera footage, they were able to deliver a cut within a week of the director completing the shoot.

“Every film that I have edited has been on the Avid, and I think it’s the best system for lots of reasons,” notes Roach. “Clint bought the systems years ago and the Unity. We don’t travel with Clint, which is weird for this industry. We stay in Burbank. They ship the dailies to us and we get it cut. Maybe once a week we’ll send Clint a DVD or QuickTime to see where we are at, and how things are going. He usually doesn’t make any changes to what we are doing until after he’s done shooting and we sit down with him.”


By Roach’s calculation, American Sniper incorporates approximately 800 visual effects, many involving muzzle flashes from riffles and bullet ricochets. 

“In the last battle scene of the movie, there’s a huge visual effects scene, because a sand storm hits the building that they are on in the middle of the battle,” he adds. “The sand is taking over, so every shot is a visual effects shot.”

Five visual effect houses contributed to the film, and some of the shots didn’t arrive until the day before the final mix.

Roach says the way the film captures the moments of intensity and the look in Bradley Cooper’s eyes, is what stands out to him. “It was very hard for him, at moments, to do what he had to do. Capturing that, I think, was unique.”

As far as the most dynamic scene — and there are many — he points to the film’s final battle. “The last battle scene, with all of the footage that we got, and the massive battle that they went through, and the helicopter… I would say the last battle is one of the most intense scenes.”