Nicholas Britell’s Power of Fluidity

In Barry Jenkin’s recent picture, If Beale Street Could Talk, there is a specific scene where the overall feeling of the film was somehow represented into one fatal shot. Without giving away any plot points, there is a scene where a woman looks directly at the camera in the typical directional technique the film’s director Barry Jenkins likes to approach.

In this scene, Jenkins makes the subject stare directly at the camera so he could slow the time of the scene down, making the subject the key focus for a mere few seconds.

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Image from vox.com

Britell’s score dramatizes the scene, but with fluid synchronization. Both the directing technique executed by Jenkins and the powerful orchestral enhancement demonstrated by Britell makes this scene, that barely lasts for over twenty seconds, one of the most powerful movie segments I have witnessed in recent years.


I was first introduced to Britell’s conducting power through Jenkins’ previous film, Moonlight. That became the first film that clarified for me the perfect collaborative power that comes from both the mastermind of vision and mastermind of sound.

When you put two geniuses of different occupations together to create a piece, the only thing that comes out is an evolutionary piece of work.


Nicholas Britell is a recent character in modern scoring movement. A graduate of Julliard School and Harvard University, Britell accumulated some prestige from his commission work throughout the years after graduation, including working on films such as “The Big Short” and 2013 Best Picture Winner, “12 Years a Slave.” With Jenkins, Britell brings out the best of his provocative conduction.

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Image from variety.com

Like any composer, he accommodates his sound to thematically match the film he’s scoring for. For a film that revolves around grief, his scores match it with a harrowing appeal. For a film revolving around will, he’ll tweak his scores to sound exalting.


Britell executes the standard formula with exceptional performance, taking a step further into the fluidity of the dramatic pieces. His signature caliber is the piano, but his recognizable supporting instruments include the passionate use of strings and brass.

If Beale Street Could Talk utilized the New York aesthetic of twentieth-century Jazz music while invigorating the old vinyl sound with poignant orchestral renditions. In Moonlight, Britell took advantage of his own prowess.

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Image from time.com

The themes in Moonlight were orchestral in itself. Britell’s use of dramatic string build-ups from quiet, lurking expositions envelop the scenes that the compositions serve to brighten. There has never been a film that witnessed such a vicious and inhibiting environment and allowed the beauty and personal grace to slip into its crevice through reassuring themes.

In the film VICE, Britell instead shifts his lens on the secretive and conniving. Pieces like Flipping Cards and Taking Over The Damn Place are nonchalant compositions that dedicate their cool and lurking attitudes to the devious acts committed by Dick Cheney and his affiliates.


In these fairly recent soundtracks, Britell already demonstrates his capacity to take on a wide range of emotions by critically stretching his ensemble to the far reaches of the musical universe. Every instrument must be as cohesive as the other, as the polyphony must represent the preserved scene in its rawest power.

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Image from latimes.com

This could also explain Britell’s psychology. During his years as a Harvard student, he played synth for an instrumental Hip-Hop group who called themselves The Witness Protection Program. After graduation, he became a hedge-fund manager before the inimical 2008 housing market crash.

After his full commitment to scoring, he also temporarily held the torch of producing the 2014 Oscar-nominated full lengthed feature Whiplash.

Britell personifies the imperative man that the creative world needs. His proven catalog of work in every approached field clarifies his multi-talented spectrum.

Bruce Lee was infamous for this one quote, which idealizes Britell perfectly.

“Now, you put the water in a cup, it becomes the cup. If you put water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

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