The Art of the Movie Trailer: Carrie Gormley on American Sniper

Gut-wrenching emotion, without any music at all

A good trailer fully immerses you into the story—it excites you, intrigues you, urges you to see more. But a great trailer takes your finger and places it right on the trigger. 

The teaser trailer for American Sniper, created by Warner Bros. and mOcean, does just that. War films aren't an easy sell to mass audiences. Most folks don't flock to them on date night. Still, they're important films, a statement of our times. What Warner Bros. does so well in this 2015 Clio Entertainment gold winner is portray the humanity in something as inhumane as war. What you're left with is two minutes of pure feeling. 

You watch from behind the scope while the soundtrack of war plays around you. You wait. Patiently. Until you identify your target. Then comes the heartbeat. Ba-bump. Ba-bump. In the moments between life and death, a lifespan flashes before your eyes. It happens so quickly. By the time the title appears, you're left gasping for breath. 

American Sniper | Confirm

This week Muse chatted with Carrie Gormley, co-president and owner of Create Advertising Group, about the American Sniper teaser and why it remains one of her favorites.

Muse: For you, what makes a great movie trailer?
Carrie Gormley: I believe a great movie trailer is all about the emotion it elicits.  Does the audience relate to the characters enough to invest in them? Does it make them laugh, cry, jump out of their seat or get their heart beating faster? It's all about making the audience feel something and creating moments that stay with them and leave them wanting more. I always like to approach a trailer by first identifying what the most relatable theme or moment is and building the piece around that. 

What about the American Sniper trailer stood out to you most?
There was such confidence and simplicity in the piece—without showing too much or telling the audience a very specific story, it was able to convey raw emotion and make you feel for the main character and understand his complexity simply by playing out a scene and weaving a montage of flashbacks throughout.  The use of sound design, the pacing, the cutting, the less-is-more approach. It all came together beautifully—without music, which is usually a key element in creating the emotion in trailers. 

Despite not having much in common with the main character, I connected with his human struggle in that one moment and how all the elements of our life come together to affect our decisions every day. All of that was done with little dialogue or specific plot setup. Very often as trailer makers we are forced to weave in a lot of story into our trailers, and I really appreciated the confidence of this piece—sometimes less really is more.

What elements of the trailer still inspire your work today?
I strive to make sure I am connecting to the theme of the movie rather than getting caught up in too many specifics. It's easy when condensing a two-hour movie down to two and a half minutes to get caught up in all the details that are needed to tell the story. But often I try to step back and think, "What is the bigger message in this movie that audiences can relate to?" The clearer we are on that, the more confidently we can craft something we are proud of.

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Ashley Falls
Ashley Falls is associate director of program management and development at The Clio Awards.