×

Composer Nicholas Britell Says ‘Big Short’ Was a ‘Surreal’ Experience

Nicholas Britell composed the complex score for Paramount’s “The Big Short,” which opened in a limited run and expanded on Dec. 23. The composer has a background in the financial world and told Variety that working with director Adam McKay was a great experience, with some “surreal” and dreamlike moments.

How did you come to this project?
I had worked on “12 Years a Slave,” doing some on-camera music like violin pieces, so I worked with Jeremy Kleiner and Dede Gardner of Plan B. And then Jeremy much later told me about “The Big Short.” I loved the script; there were cool moments including scenes that called for a piece of classical music. So I emailed Adam and attached a few music pieces. The first thing I sent him was a classical piece I’d written, but after talking with Adam, the music I ended up writing for the film was definitely different. We had a conversation and he asked “What is the sound of finance? What is the sound of dark math?”

When did you actually start work on the film?
I read the script in the springtime and talked to Adam throughout the shoot. The unique part was getting involved so early, and being able to work with Adam and (editor) Hank Corwin, even in the early stages of editing. He would edit working with the music. It was like a workshop. And kind of dreamlike!

Did you have favorite scenes?
There’s a piece in the film when they’re leaving Vegas. We used six pianos, all layered together; all these pianos felt stable and unstable at the same time — which seemed like the markets themselves. There is quite a bit of piano through the film. There’s also a track called “Mouseclick Symphony,” which is just composed of mouseclicks and computer beeps, when Michael (Christian Bale) is analyzing individual mortgages. They were authentic computer sounds, and the goal is: “Oh, I’m in his brain right now.” Technology enabled that, authentic computer sounds. I worked with Adam and Hank on how to sculpt this piece.

Talk about the technology.
Technology was essential, but music has always been involved with technology. I used Abelton Live software, which gives you the ability to bend sounds and to stretch things, and play with it like Play-Doh. There is a theme called “America’s Number One Industry,” which took a theme and stretched it out, distorted it. We were always trying to connect ideas, not just with music but the audio.

What was the hardest sequence?
The end of the movie, from Mark Baum (Steve Carell) saying “Boom!” to his “Sell it all.” I tried a lot of different stuff. The movie at that point is tying so many things together; at the same time, there’s a massive collapse around the globe that was so intense and large-scale. I tried to bring it all together by using all the earlier themes. But one night Adam said, “It would be interesting to write a piece for solo piano; write it as if it’s a classical piece.” I wrote a 12-minute piece, which worked so much better than what we had.

You have a piano background, don’t you?
I started playing piano at 5 and started composing young. I was into classical, then jazz, then in hip-hop as a member of the band Witness Protection Program. In college, I scored my first movie, a $10,000 feature called “Domino One.” My dreams were always to be a film composer; the first music to inspire me was “Chariots of Fire.”

You also worked as a trader?
After college, I needed a job, so I interviewed with a man on Wall Street who also happened to be a composer. He hired me and I learned to trade currencies, while at night I was scoring short films. It was fascinating and I learned a lot. But working on “Big Short,” it was surreal to think about these currencies concepts in an artistic way.

Popular on Variety

More Artisans

  • Queen and Adam Lambert Live

    How the Queen + Adam Lambert Tour Brought the Opera to Arenas

    Just as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the biopic of late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, wowed moviegoers last year, stage design firm Stufish Entertainment Architects has helped Queen + Adam Lambert’s current U.S. tour deliver a screen spectacular of its own. The tour, which plays New Orleans on Aug. 20 and Atlanta on Aug. 22, touched down at [...]

  • Mark Damon, CEO & Chairman, Foresight

    Mark Damon's DCR Finance Receives $150 Million for Financing Georgia Films (EXCLUSIVE)

    Mark Damon’s DCR Finance Corp., co-headed with financer Adi Cohen, has received a $150 million investment from Go Media Productions for Georgia projects, Variety has learned exclusively. Damon, whose credits include “2 Guns” and “Lone Survivor,” made the announcement Monday with Cohen. The deal calls for Atlanta-based Go Media Productions to join a private placement as [...]

  • The Handmaid's Tale -- "Household" -

    ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Crew on Why the Lincoln Memorial Shoot Was Worth the Effort

    Shooting on location at a national monument may seem glamorous, but it often involves extensive prep to comply with strict regulations, restrictions and crowds — all for a short on-screen moment. For the cast and crew of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the seven months of planning and negotiations required for a one-day shoot at the [...]

  • Producer and crew on set. Twelve

    'Driven' Kept Shoot in Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria to Help Locals

    Behind-the-scenes featurettes have long enumerated the many obstacles any movie or TV show has had to overcome to reach the theater or TV screen. But few films faced hardships as severe as those overcome by “Driven,” the real-life hero-to-zero story of automaker John DeLorean (played by Lee Pace) and his misadventures with ex-con pilot-turned-FBI informant [...]

  • The Righteous GemstonesAdam Devine, Danny McBride,

    How Televangelists, Elvis Inspired Costumes for HBO's 'The Righteous Gemstones'

    HBO’s new comedy series “The Righteous Gemstones,” about a famous family of televangelists whose dysfunction runs far deeper than its Christianity, seems to exist in its own time and place. Set in present-day Texas, the inspiration for the Gemstone family — played by John Goodman, series creator Danny McBride, Edi Patterson and Adam Devine — [...]

  • A Wrikle in Time

    New Zealand Offers Breathtaking Locations, Trained Crews, 20% Cash Grant

    With its heart-quickening vistas and magnificent views, New Zealand is a prime location for savvy investors seeking to maximize the incentive on their next project. Consider the production value of filming amid the daunting heights of the Southern Alps, or along the stunning shores of Lake Gunn. There’s also Auckland, with its magnificent Sky Tower [...]

  • DESCENDANTS 3 - DESCENDANTS 3 -

    'Descendants 3' Choreographer Mixed Dancing, Acting and Sword Fighting

    For a generation of dancers, Jamal Sims is one of a handful of choreographers who’ve pushed the boundaries of dance in film, TV and onstage. With a career that’s included stints working alongside Madonna and Miley Cyrus, he brings his edgy pop style to the dance numbers in “Descendants 3,” which premiered Aug. 2 and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content