Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind The Making Of Straight Outta Compton
It was a smash hit at the box office last year. Straight Outta Compton, nominated for an Academy Award for best original screenplay and based on the true story of N.W.A., one of the most influential hip-hop groups in history, the film surpassed even Ice Cube’s expectations. Directed by F. Gary Gray, a long-time Cube collaborator, the film starred O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Ice Cube, Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre, Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, Neil Brown Jr. as DJ Yella, Aldis Hodge as MC Ren, and Marlon Yates Jr. as D.O.C. Here are some secrets behind the making of one of 2015’s most popular films, Straight Outta Compton.
How It All Began
An N.W.A. film was initially being made by another film studio, but it was based off of the book by the group’s former manager, Jerry Heller. Ice Cube wasn’t having that. He insisted that if a movie was going to be made, it had to be done right.
F. Gary Gray
Ice Cube wanted F. Gary Gray on board as a director because he knew N.W.A.’s story and knew the group during the early days. In addition to his obvious directorial skills, Gray wouldn’t need to be taught about the significance of N.W.A.
To help the actors get into character, F. Gary Gray had them re-record N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton album from start to finish.
Real N.W.A. vs the Actors
There are points in the movie when we hear N.W.A.’s music as it was recorded by them, and N.W.A.’s music, as it was recorded by the actors. Gray wanted to build the experience holistically, instead of adhering to some unstated biopic rules.
Ice Cube had always wanted his son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., to play him in the N.W.A. biopic. Jackson wasn’t initially down for the role, but when the thought of someone else playing his father made him mad, he realized that he needed to do it. He spent two years working with an acting coach and also shed 20 pounds in order to pull the whole thing off.
Eazy-E’s widow, Tomica Woods-Wright, allowed actor Jason Mitchell access to unseen footage of the late rapper, including music video outtakes, in order to better capture his personality.
Death Row Records
Dr. Dre added some much-needed depth to that chaotic Death Row scene where his character (played by Corey Hawkins) confronts Suge Knight. According to him, the place was run amok with pitbulls and violence – one of many things that made him leave the company.
You can credit that “Bye, Felicia” line and reference to Friday to O’Shea Jackson Jr. He thought it’d be funny to add it at the end of the scene when a character named Felicia was forced out of a hotel room.
Andrea Berloff, co-writer of Straight Outta Compton, referred to Ice Cube’s wife, Kimberly Woodruff, and Eazy-E’s widow Tomica Woods-Wright as her guideposts. They were both heavily involved in the process of the film coming together from the very beginning.
Los Angeles Riots
A rundown strip mall in North Hollywood served as the backdrop for the L.A. riots scene. The production design crew set up overturned vehicles and created burned down storefronts to achieve a realistic portrayal of the riots.
Prior to shooting, producers considered more affordable cities to film in, like Boston, New Orleans and Miami. But Compton was so integral to the story, and they knew they couldn’t fake it.
Shane Valentino was the production designer on Straight Outta Compton. He divided the film into several distinct color palettes. The first third of the film was bathed in yellows and browns to evoke all things Cali. You can see that detail in the clothing and even the street lamps. The second part of the film has a blue palette, which can be seen in everything from costumes to stage lighting. The last part is red, as evidenced by the classic cars, bandannas, curtains, etc.
The production design team was aided by Tomica Woods-Wright, who filled them in on some of her late husband’s influences, like the show Miami Vice and comic books. These details fill his home in the film.
The scene in which Ice Cube smashes the Priority Records president’s office to smithereens almost didn’t make it to screen. Apparently, the scene was cut from a rewritten version of the script, but Ice Cube insisted that it be in there.