Nicholas Britell Q&A: ‘Moonlight’ composer
During our recent webcam chat, “Moonlight” composer Nicholas Britell reveals that upon seeing an early cut of the film, “the first word that really came to me was poetry.” As he explains, “there’s this sense of sublime beauty, tenderness, intimacy [and] sensitivity in the film, so I started saying, ‘What is the sound of that? How do you musically create that feeling?'”
Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, the film chronicles a young man’s coming of age in Miami, FL, with three different actors portraying him in childhood (Alex Hibbert), adolescence (Ashton Sanders), and manhood (Trevante Rhodes). To link the parts musically, Britell admits, “I wanted something that could recur throughout the chapters, but which would go through it’s own transformation and evolve.”
He hit upon a style of Southern hip hop known as, “chop-and-screwed music,” where, “you take tracks and slow them way down, and when you slow them, the pitch goes down, so you get this deepened and enriched, awesome-sounding music.” Britell decided to do this with the elegiac string and piano themes he had composed, so that, “you do have this connective tissue throughout, but there’s a real sort of concept there of how we were playing with it.”
Britell has worked on several Oscar-winning films as of late. As a composer, he scored “The Big Short” and wrote and arranged the various on-camera musical moments for “12 Years a Slave.” And as a producer, he helped get the original “Whiplash” short made with writer/director Damien Chazelle, then acted as a co-producer on the feature.