Straight Outta Compton tells the story of Los Angeles rap group N.W.A. (Jaimie Trueblood/Universal Studios)
East Coast native Bill Straus came to Los Angeles with the aspiration of being a writer one day, but little did he know that he would eventually share one of the city’s greatest stories with the world.
“As a kid I wanted to be writer,” says Straus, who spoke to Living Out Loud – Los Angeles over the phone while on his way from New York to Washington, D.C. “I heard about a program for screenwriting at USC Film School, and I went. I thought it was an interesting way to write and hopefully be able to split my writing [with] screenwriting.”
Straight Outta Compton is a story about five young men that rocked a nation from the small and dangerous city of Compton, Calif. Through rap music, N.W.A. changed misconceptions of gang bangers and voiced the poor minority communities that were being tormented by the police in the early ’90s.
This movie – which puts the spotlight on the ongoing nationwide conflicts with police brutality like in Ferguson, Mo. – would not have been possible if Straus had not come to terms with Tomica Woods-Wright, widow of legendary rapper and N.W.A member Eazy-E.
“I got involved with the movie in 2004, and I was actually the first producer it was submitted to,” shares Straus. “Throughout all the drafts of the movie, it has always had that police element, because that’s their story. The timing [with Ferguson], that’s just how it worked out.”
Straus explains that he was “a New York hip-hop snob,” but when the script for Straight Outta Compton found itself on his desk, he was delighted to be working on the film. However, he shares that since 2004 it had been a struggle to move forward with the process of the movie, as it was originally supposed to be based on Eazy-E’s life, and no one had been able to secure the rights to Eazy-E’s music.
“When the film was submitted to me I was very excited about it, but I was told by a good friend of mine that nobody could get the music rights from Tomica,” he says.
But after countless amount of encounters with people “who were connected to Tomica,” he explains that she finally gave them the answer that they had been searching for.
“We spent two years trying, it was a war room, trying to get to the widow,” he says. When it did happen, “It was a very dramatic thing where Tomica came into our office. She kind of let her guard down after a while and finally agreed to attach her name to the script. With her blessing, we took it to the studios.”
After all, Straus isn’t just some East Coast ‘snob’ who called USC and the rigorous streets of South Central his home temporarily and left. No, he became a part of it and experienced first-hand what the film details.
“Being around John Singleton and working on Boyz ‘n the Hood as a production assistant, I would drive all over South Central. So I really started to feel that community in a way,” he says. “I feel like got a sense for it, where most people don’t.”
Straus recalls that, like in the film, it was a routine to drive up and down the streets and see police searching and arresting people.
“That scene where those guys are lying on the ground and getting handcuffed by the cops, I would see that all the time,” he tells. “It was just a common thing to see.”
Although he lived in Los Angeles, he could not escape his roots, though. Straus shares that he did buy the N.W.A. album and that he became a fan like most people in New York after listening to the album. But he jokingly states that he could relate more to “the guys in the booth.”
“In the movie, the guys in the booth at the beginning when they said, ‘Get outta here beat street,’ that was closer to who I was. You know like, ‘What’s a six-foe?’ You know what I mean? I was definitely identifying more with them,” shares the East Coast kid.
Somehow, he, with some help from his buddies, got through to the widow of one of the most prominent and lawless rappers of Los Angeles.
Straus, however, shares that he cannot take credit for the film itself.
“I don’t want to mix words. Those guys made the movie: [director] F. Gary Gray, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Tomica. That is their vision on screen,” he says.
Regardless, the world – Los Angeles, in particular – is not only thankful for Straus’ persistence and dedication to the story, but also for his love for the city and its historical music legacy.
“That music embodies that community, and so it speaks to me,” he concludes.
Straight Outta Compton is now in theaters.