How They Edited Straight Outta Compton

With its dense, real-life narrative, Straight Outta Compton posed a unique challenge for editors Billy Fox and Michael Tronick. Their dilemma? How to streamline F. Gary Gray’s biopic of hip-hop group N.W.A to make it accessible to a wide audience, while remaining true to subjects Ice Cube and Dr. Dre—both producers on the film. The result is a portrait of N.W.A’s ”reality rap” as a cultural document of gang life, drug dealing, and police harassment in ’80s and ’90s L.A. that’s rooted in the fascinating stories of its three central figures: Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), and Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell).

Not surprisingly, focus and pace were crucial to the narrative effectiveness. Fox (Four Brothers, Law & Order) was actually considered a year before production started when asked to cut some screen tests. Gray was impressed (“You get it”) and he got the gig. “The vibe is that there was a fair amount of improvising and it’s just a rhythm of keeping the dialogue going,” Fox said. “[Gray] was all about the energy maintained.”

But it was an unusual process. Fox usually gets dailies for numbered scenes and compares them to the script. But he noticed that nothing was the same. He cut it and then would cut the next scene, which was a hybrid of various scenes with some footage cut out. “And I would collect five to seven scenes every other night and send them to Gary. At a certain point, I took the script and put it away and never used it again because the scenes were so completely different.”

There was also the matter of having Ice Cube and Dr. Dre providing editorial input, which was a plus because of the former’s innate storytelling strength and the latter’s musical savvy. “One of the many challenges was doing a biopic on people that are still alive,” Fox added. “And not only still alive but main producers on the movie. These guys are powers right now, and this is the story of them. Having them really involved was something I was concerned about. And how they were going to deal with the two different contrasts: You have Cube, who understands editing and pacing and why decisions are made. And then you have Dre, who is brilliant but would ask a lot of questions about the filmmaking process.”

Read the rest at TOH/Indiewire.

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Crafts, Editing, Movies, Tech, Trailers

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