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Producer Bill Straus And The Early Days Of “Straight Outta Compton”

By Marjorie Galas

Stubborn.  Determined. These are words that describe “Straight Outta Compton” producer Bill Straus, who refused to take no for an answer during  the process of securing music rights crucial to making the film.

Opening in theaters nationwide August 14, 2015, “Straight Outta Compton” follows the birth, growth and demise of N.W.A. Started by teens interpreting the effects of drug hustling, gang violence and racial profiling rampant in their native city of Compton, Niggaz Wit Attitudes – N.W.A. – ushered California gangsta rap into the American consciousness and sparked national debates around freedom of expression, artistic interpretation and constitutional rights. Straus believed “Straight Outta Compton” was a story that had to be told – he just never imagined the hurdles that lay before him.

“Selecting a script to turn into a movie is always a leap of blind faith,” said Straus. “It was an exercise in patience. I knew one day the film would get made. I just didn’t know the deals would take forever.”

Straus’ interest in compelling stories and urban dramas began when he was a student at the University of Southern California.  Fellow classmate John Singleton, gave Straus his first on set experience when he hired Straus to work on his feature “Boyz n the Hood.” Straus vision remained on producing, so he took an internship at New Line Cinema. He remained at New Line, first taking on a story development position before moving into an executive position.  Early in 2003, Straus left New Line to become an in house producer with a first look deal at Circle of Confusion.

Just before heading to the Sundance Film Festival in 2004, a junior agent brought the first draft of “Straight Outta Compton” to his attention.  While attending the festival, Straus shared his enthusiasm about the script a friend who worked at Spike Lee’s production company, Forty Acres and a Mule Filmworks.

“He told me others had tried to make an N. W. A. film but no one had luck getting the rights from Easy E’s widow,” said Straus. “Bad experiences made her extremely cautious. She kept herself unavailable.”

Aware of the challenges, Straus and his team made every effort to contact Tomica Woods-Wright, the CEO and owner of Ruthless Records. Their efforts went unanswered. Without the music, there was no movie. Determined to move the project forward, Straus recognized a new approach was needed.  Circle of Confusion’s David Engel became involved to help move the project forward.

“We took a look at the early drafts. Initially it focused on Easy E’s story,” said Straus.   At this stage it was decided to revisit the story of N.W.A. from it’s origins.

Engel and Straus worked with S. Leigh Savidge, who co-directed “Welcome to Death Row” – a documentary focusing on the story of Suge Knight and Death Row. Savidge, who has a Co-Executive Producer and Writer credit on “Straight Outta Compton,” began the revision process by conducting interviews with individuals involved in the earliest stages of N.W.A.’s formation, including crew members, engineers, and club owners including Lonzo Williams. The interviews offered a two-fold benefit: they fleshed out the story for the script, and began opening doors to those closest to Woods-Wright. As contact was made, Straus was able to provide a script that presented life in Compton, the connection between each group member, and a robust portrayal of the supporting characters including manager Jerry Heller and Woods-Wright.  The team had managed to reach her, and a meeting was established.

“During the meeting she became emotional,” said Straus. “It was clear how important it was to to her to get the story right.”

Straus main involvement with “Straight Outta Compton”took place from2004 through 2007.  He remained connected with the project, available for phone calls and acting as more of a consultant through the next few years until roughly 2011.It thrilled him to see Ice Cube step into the role of Producer and the other surviving members of N.W.A. take an active role in shaping the film. He felt their vision and direction would provide the stamp of authenticity the upcoming release provides.

In 2011, Straus switched his professional focus to film sales. He established the domestic sales banner BGP Films in New York and devotes his attention to indie filmmakers. He visited the set of “Straight Outta Compton” during stages of production and feels incredibly proud of his role in getting the film off the ground. He hopes young producers who believe in their material follow in his footsteps.

“It’s a story of persistence, stubbornness and faith. We wouldn’t take no for an answer,” said Straus. “If you have good material, you’ll find the right people who will understand.”

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