Film Composer (Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk, The Big Short, Vice, 12 Years a Slave)
by D. Dona Le
“If it feels good, keep going. If it doesn’t, stop.”
That is a “very obvious… but groundbreaking” lesson that film composer Nicholas Britell AB ‘03 discovered at Harvard while collaborating with friend and fellow band member, Jake Rubin AB ‘03. The two were part of a hip-hop group, The Witness Protection Program, comprised of six instrumentalists and two rappers. They were discussing a track that Britell was writing for the band—whether the track was working, going in the right direction—and Rubin’s words struck a chord that lingers with the composer today.
“There are a lot of elements to the creative process. When you’re writing a lot of music, constantly trying to feel what you think works, sometimes there’s a belief that [even] if you’re not feeling something, you just have to trudge through it,” explains Britell. “But I’ve always found that that’s not the case. If you’re not feeling something, stop and do something else. And when it’s working, just keep doing it.”
Here, Britell is describing his work process on a micro level. But even a cursory overview of his career on the macro level proves that everything is working for Britell right now. The young composer is behind the scores for acclaimed films Moonlight, The Big Short, Vice, and If Beale Street Could Talk, to name but a few. He was first nominated for an Academy Award for his score to Moonlight in 2017. He is currently nominated for a Best Score Academy Award for his work on If Beale Street Could Talk. Also the composer for HBO’s drama series Succession, Britell has been described as “the composer with a growing fan club among directors” (NPR) and hailed as “the sound of money in Hollywood” (TheRinger.com).Read more