Interview: ‘Straight Outta Compton’ Screenwriters Andrea Berloff and Jonathan Herman

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comptonThere have been many movies that have hit the zeitgeist on the way to some awards season success, but few do it as convincingly as Straight Outta Compton. The movie is the highest grossing musical biopic ever and its success on the guild circuit (PGA, SAG, and WGA nominations) have many thinking Oscar. WGA nominees Andrea Berloff and Jonathan Herman were at the forefront of this success as they had the monumental task of writing the script for the film. We had a lovely chat about what it’s like to work on a film of this scope, how movies can represent the times, and what its like to work with Ice Cube and Dr. Dre.

Here are some highlights from the interview:

On Being a Black Lives Matter Era Film:

Berloff spoke at length about how when she started writing the script in 2010, people actually doubted the validity of the film’s frank depictions of police brutality and racism. She and Herman wisely chose to lean into those societal issues, as well as the subjects’ blackness and the Los Angeles area racial tension, to craft a movie that both mirror the revolutionary spirit of the group and managed to tap into the current racial unrest in America (they were filming during the events in Ferguson). This is one of the many things that helped elevate the film into public consciousness and why it was so successful.

On What Is Included, and Kept Out of a Biopic

As with any biopic, particularly one with such a wide scope, things will be left out. Given how the movie endured some controversy with regards to what it chose to not reveal regarding Dr. Dre’s past, both writers were very forthcoming that as with any film there are things that change from the script to filming to screen. The filmmakers have to make decisions on what type of movie they will be bringing to audiences and as such some things can get left on the cutting room floor.

Both writers also had to take care to give everyone’s story balance and the same amount of consideration. They mention that if they weighted the story too heavily to one character, they’d hear from Cube or Dre. This is precisely what made the 2nd half of the film so challenging for them, and why the film’s success is so rewarding. Once the group splits, the movie has to manage three major threads and does so successfully.

What Their Favorite and Toughest Scenes

Both writers mentioned that the entire project was tough to do based on the sheer amount of characters and storylines that had to be moved through the film. They were not afforded the luxury of spending large amounts of time in each location/ setting. This meant that a scene like as “simple” as when all the characters go to Doo-Tos proved incredibly challenging because they had to show and deliver so much in about a 3 minute scene.

It wasn’t all tough, as Andrea noted that her favorite scene was the moment where Dr. Dre is trying to coach Eazy-E while recording “Cruising Down the Street.” This simple (in relation to other moments) scene allowed them to have a moment that provides humor, dramatic tension, and strong character moments with Dre, Cube, and Easy E.

On The Ultimate Impact of Straight Outta Compton

The interview ended with Andrea and Jonathan both saying that they hoped this movie could serve as a launching pad for other Black stories.  “It was tough to get this movie made because there were no comps,” Andrea mentioned, alluding to the fact that studios are often resistant to greenlight project unless there are similar films with success, which is why a lot of minority stories face more difficult times being made and distributed. Moving forward, both would like to see studios taking risks on projects and original material like Straight Outta Compton.

Check out the full interview for more tidbits on the making of the film here: