I’m a New York-based domestic sales agent, but I haven’t always served that role. I spent many years working in the studio system in L.A.; first as a writer, then as an executive, and later as a producer. I am finally on the verge of my first memorable “Hollywood” feature.
I was the very first producer on “Straight Outta Compton,” as it was originally submitted to me when I was an in-house producer at a company called Circle of Confusion, having recently left New Line Cinema. At New Line, I had been known for liking smart movies in the hip-hop arena (as a teen in early ’80s Brooklyn, this is what we were into and it stayed with me).
Soon after getting the script for “Straight Outta Compton,” I went to Sundance, where I stayed in the same condo as the Forty Acres and a Mule people. I told my good friend there I had received a submission of a N.W.A. script. I was excited because I understood the place that N.W.A. held in the cultural landscape and thought Eazy-E’s death distinguished their story even more. My friend laughed and told me not to waste my time. He explained how they had tried, as had many others (he mentioned big names), to make an N.W.A. movie. Eazy-E’s widow, Tomica Woods-Wright, would never release the music rights and there was no movie without them.
I was discouraged, but I wasn’t finished. The writer S. Leigh Savidge happened to be at Sundance, so we had lunch. I told him what I had heard about Eazy-E’s widow and he explained that he had made a documentary about Suge Knight called “Welcome to Death Row.” He thought he could maybe connect with her through “six degrees of separation.”
Leigh would meet someone who might be able to help us, then we would reconvene and strategize. Leigh and co-writer Alan Wenkus would change the script to add more dimension to Eazy’s character. The idea was to draw Eazy in a light that would do justice to his legacy to win over Tomica. We also made her a more important character in the film than she initially was.
Eventually, we gained the trust of someone close to her and got her the improved script. She loved the writing and its intent. She and Leigh became fast friends. We were Leigh’s link to the studios. He brought Tomica to our office in early 2006. At first, she was guarded, but by the end of the three-hour meeting she had taken off her shoes and was crying. She mostly just talked about “Eric” and what really happened from her perspective. Maybe it was an asset that we were outsiders. It’s hard to know exactly why she chose us, but it definitely started with the script that we developed with Leigh and Alan.
Soon after, we took the script out to the studios. New Line immediately knew it was a hot property. Toby Emmerich, my old boss there, was originally from the music world and I heard that he didn’t believe we actually had the widow attached. Apparently, he said, “if it’s really true…BUY IT.” And that is exactly what happened. That was back in 2006.
What happened between 2006 and 2015 is not unusual for a Hollywood movie. There were rewrites and producer deals to be made. While Tomica attached herself to the script, she still had to make her deal with New Line for both the music and her producer credit. This was not easy. The day New Line bought the film, they called Ice Cube and Dre. While Dre took years to come into the fold, Cube was involved from that point forward. Cube Visions actually became the alpha producers almost immediately.
This happens a lot, and it’s not always fair, but this film was about his life — not to mention that Cube was already a very established movie producer. Still, we were on the calls with New Line regarding story, writers, directors, etc. The script needed reworking to incorporate more of Cube and Dre’s stories and a new writer penned a draft. Director F. Gary Gray came on board soon after. By the time everything was in place, New Line got folded into Warner Bros. and a new studio was suddenly calling the shots. Warner Bros. ultimately decided not to make the film for budgetary reasons, but thanks to Cube and “Ride Along,” Universal was waiting in the wings. They brought in Jon Herman to rewrite again and the film was finally shot in 2014.
My personal contribution to the movie is that it started with me, a new producer with a vision. The excitement and anticipation surrounding the film is what I always expected. I also love the movie itself, but that is a credit to F. Gary Gray, Cube, Dre and so many others. I am just incredibly proud of what everyone accomplished. Film distributors who know my clients as a sales agent would probably tell you I take on challenging films, but that I have good creative instincts. “Compton” was a challenging film, but is a story of faith, patience and how good creative instincts can find their way.
Bill Straus has enjoyed a varied and exciting career in Hollywood, from
his early days production assistant to career heights as a screenwriter and producer
to his latest turn as a film sales agent. While
attending USC, he met future director John Singleton, who hired Straus to work on
the groundbreaking film “Boyz N’ the Hood.” Straus
earned a Masters degree from USC’s Peter Stark Producing Program. An internship during his time in the program turned
into a story department position at New Line Cinema where he worked for a few
years before becoming an executive at the studio. After
leaving New Line, Straus set up his own production shingle with a deal at Sony
Pictures-based Circle of Confusion.
In 2011, Straus
returned to his hometown of Brooklyn and launched the
domestic sales banner BGP Film. Among the titles he has represented as a sales agent are “Bronx Obama,” “Buzzard” Uncertain Terms,” “Young Bodies Heal Quickly,” “Through a Lens Darkly” and many others.
READ MORE: Watch: New Trailer For N.W.A. Biopic ‘Straight Outta Compton’ Drops The Beat