Sorry I missed this awesome article.
Icons now, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, DJ Ren, MC Yella and Eazy-E began their storied lives just trying to survive and prosper in the meanest ‘hood in L.A.
“I was watching TV in a New York hotel room when I saw Ice Cube on Queen Latifah [the talk show], and she asked what he was doing next,” recounts Oscar-nominated cinematographer (and lifelong rap/hip-hop fan) Matthew Libatique, ASC. “When Cube said a film called Straight Outta Compton, I literally jumped up and grabbed the phone. For the first time in my career, I called my agent and said I really want that project.”
Fortunately for Libatique, he and Compton director, F. Gary Gray, shared the same agency. They met on Oscar day, 2014, to discuss the film. As Libatique picks up the story: “I remember walking into Gary’s office and seeing this wall of images – one image per scene in chronology with the script. I had come to that meeting with some general ideas about camera movement, but nothing textural that related to color or mood.
“These images, which were basically snapshots by friends or people who were around N.W.A. at that time and happened to have a camera, were completely naturalistic. They put you right there in that time and place, in the recording studios, the concert tours, the photo and video shoots, right on the streets.”
Libatique says the office images felt like a good starting point, “because to me this movie was an origin story about superheroes,” he adds. “I remember telling Gary [in that first meeting] how I read a lot of comic books as a kid, and my favorites were always the origin stories – the ones that showed how Batman or Superman or the Green Lantern became who they are. That’s what Straight Outta Compton is – an origin story about people who ultimately become larger than life in the eyes of pop culture.”
The superhero metaphor (from the man who shot Ironman and Ironman 2) is well placed. The Los Angeles where the transformative gangsta rap group known as N.W.A. (Niggaz Wit Attitudes) came of age was as treacherous and crime-ridden as any in the history of that city. Rival Crips and Bloods gangs ruled the streets with crack-cocaine empires, while a militarized LAPD waged indiscriminate war on criminals and civilians alike. Black teenagers (especially those with phone pagers) were ever-moving targets.
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