How Nicholas Britell Infused His Score with a “Reverence for Science” and an Absurd Big Band


Nicholas Britell | Photo by Emma McIntyre / GETTY Images

Hit play below to listen to Part 1 of our interview with Nicholas Britell.

Hit play below to listen to Part 2 of our interview with Nicholas Britell.

Nicholas Britell’s Oscar-nominated score is for the film Don’t Look Up, an apocalyptic satire directed by Adam McKay. A comet is heading straight for the Earth – big enough to end life on the planet – and no one will listen to the scientists who are sounding the alarm. Members of the government, media, and tech community all try to find ways to benefit from the discovery, without fully grasping its dire consequences.

McKay had worked with Britell before on projects that straddled the line between the serious and absurd, with the “docu-dram-edy” The Big Shortabout the mortgage crisis, and the HBO series Successtelling the story of media mogul Logan Roy, and his family’s conflicts.

The first cue that Britell wrote for Don’t Look Up, was something he called “Overture to Logic And Knowledge” in which he tried to capture “a reverence for science and the higher aspirations for humankind.” He says the rest of the film’s score takes the opposite approach, answering the question “What is the feeling of a roller coaster hurtling off a cliff?” For that, he came up with what he describes as an absurd big band complete with a toy piano, banjo, and dueling trumpets playing higher and higher.

This marks Britell’s third nomination – his previous nods were for Moonlight in 2017, and If Beale Street Could Talk in 2019, both directed by Barry Jenkins.

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Brian Lauritzen

Brian Lauritzen is the weekday afternoon drive host for Classical KUSC and host of the nationally-syndicated radio broadcasts of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

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Jeffrey Freymann

Jeffrey is an arts producer for KUSC and our sister station, Classical KDFC, in San Francisco.