Britell was raised in a Jewish family and raised in New York City. He graduated from the college preparatory school, Hopkins School, in 1999. Britell is a graduate of the Juilliard School's Pre-College Division and a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Harvard University in 2003. At school, he was a member of the instrumental hip-hop group, The Witness Protection Program, where he played keyboards and synthesizers. Britell is part of an emerging generation of composers and artists who draw from an eclectic range of influences. His work is inspired by Rachmaninoff, Gershwin, Philip Glass, and Zbigniew Preisner as well as by producers Quincy Jones and Dr. Dre.
In 2008, Britell gained wide notice performing his own work "Forgotten Waltz No. 2" in Natalie Portman's directorial debut Eve. He collaborated again with Portman, writing music for the film New York, I Love You. In 2011, Britell performed on piano with violin virtuoso Tim Fain in "Portals." The multimedia project also featured performances by Craig Black, Julia Eichten and Haylee Nichele and featured music by Philip Glass and Nico Muhly, poetry by Leonard Cohen and choreography by Benjamin Millepied. Vogue Magazine called Britell among "...the most talented young artists at work..."
As a film composer, Britell created the music for the movie Gimme the Loot directed by Adam Leon. The film would go on to compete in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the SXSW Film Festival in 2012. The music for the film garnered special praise from New York Magazine and Variety. Britell's film composing career continued in 2012 with the scoring of Michele Mitchell's PBS documentary Haiti: Where Did the Money Go? The film, which aired over 1,000 times in the United States on PBS stations and was screened at the Oakland Film Festival and the Bolder Life Film Festival in 2012, is the winner of the 2013 National Edward R. Murrow Award for Best News Documentary and winner of a 2012 CINE Golden Eagle Award and a CINE Special Jury Award for Best Investigative Documentary.
Britell's music featured prominently in director Steve McQueen's Oscar-winning film 12 Years a Slave, for which he composed and arranged the on-camera music including the spiritual songs, work songs, featured violin performances, and dances. Billboard Magazine called Britell "...the secret weapon in the music of 12 Years a Slave". "My Lord Sunshine", composed by Britell for 12 Years a Slave, was eligible for the 2015 Oscar's best song list. The Los Angeles Times said of "My Lord Sunshine", "A work song, a spiritual, a blues lament, a communal statement – 'My Lord Sunshine (Sunrise)’ is all of the above and more…[w]hat Britell accomplished is no easy feat, and it’s a spiritual that feels and sounds of the era and deftly weaves in religious imagery with the daily horror of the slaves’ lives." Britell also notably reinterpreted "Roll Jordan Roll" for the film. Britell’s work received wide critical acclaim and he was profiled in the Wall Street Journal.
As a film producer, Britell produced the short film Whiplash, directed by Damien Chazelle, which won the Jury Award for Best US Fiction Short at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. He subsequently helped produce the feature-film Whiplash, also directed by Chazelle and starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. The Whiplash feature won Sundance's 2014 Jury Prize and Audience Award, and went on to get 5 Oscar nominations (including Best Picture) and won 3 Oscar awards. Britell also wrote and produced the track "Reaction," produced the track "When I Wake," and performed and produced "No Two Words" for the film's soundtrack.
In 2015, Britell scored The Seventh Fire, a documentary directed by Jack Pettibone Riccobono and presented by Terrence Malick, which debuted to critical acclaim at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Britell scored Natalie Portman's directorial debut feature film A Tale of Love and Darkness, which screened at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. Deadline called Britell's score for the film "riveting".
Britell also scored the Golden Globe-nominated The Big Short, directed by Adam McKay, starring Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, and Steve Carell, based on the book The Big Short by Michael Lewis, and released by Paramount in December 2015. In addition, Britell produced the soundtrack album for the film.
In 2016, Britell scored Director Gary Ross' civil-war era historical drama Free State of Jones, starring among others Matthew McConaughey and Mahershala Ali. The soundtrack album, produced by Britell, was released June 24, 2016 on Sony Masterworks.
Also in 2016, Britell wrote the original score for the critically acclaimed, Oscar-winning film Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins and starring Mahershala Ali, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, and Naomie Harris, among others. Britell's score received a 2017 Academy Award for Best Original Score nomination and it was nominated for a 2017 Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score in the Motion Picture category. The New York Times' A.O. Scott, who called the film "...about as beautiful a movie as you are ever likely to see", praised Britell's score as "...both surprising and perfect." Britell's original score was described as "... an enthralling collection of music that will linger in your mind and in your heart in much the same way as the film.", and named one of the Ten Best Music Moments of 2016 by Brooklyn Magazine. The film's soundtrack album, named one of the top 25 Soundtrack Albums of 2016 on iTunes, was produced by Britell and released by Lakeshore Records, including a special vinyl collectors' edition. Britell's "Middle of the World", from the soundtrack album, was named one of the top 25 Soundtrack Songs of 2016 on iTunes.
Britell scored Director Adam Leon's film Tramps in 2016, with Netflix acquiring worldwide distribution rights to the film at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival.
Upcoming work for Britell includes Fox Searchlight's tennis biopic Battle of the Sexes, directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and slated for release in 2017, and Director Gary Ross' Ocean's Eight, slated for release in 2018 by Warner Bros.
Britell has produced numerous other projects with The Amoveo Company, a multimedia production company and artists' collective that he co-founded with Benjamin Millepied. Amoveo is a multimedia production company and artists' collective active in digital media, television, and film. Notable Amoveo projects include "Naran Ja," a short film directed by Oscar-winning director Alejandro G. Iñárritu, "Passage To Dawn," a short film created for Maiyet's Spring/Summer 2015 collection, and "Hearts and Arrows", a short film of Benjamin Millepied’s ballet of the same name which debuted at the L.A. Film Festival in June 2015. Working with Amoveo, Britell created the "Baileys Nutcracker (Britell Remix)", which was used by Baileys for its successful "Baileys Nutcracker" campaign. The full-length version of the Baileys Nutcracker spot has over 2.8 million views on YouTube as of June 2015.
Britell is a member of the executive board of L.A. Dance Project and Chairman of the NY-based Decoda Ensemble.
He is married to cellist Caitlin Sullivan.2012 The ASCAP Foundation Henry Mancini Music Fellowship
2013 ASCAP/Doddle Award for Collaborative Achievement
2013 Whiplash – Jury Award for Best US Fiction Short at the Sundance Film Festival
2016 The Big Short — Nominee, Discovery of the Year at the 2016 World Soundtrack Awards
2016 Moonlight — Nominee, Best Original Score at the 2016 Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Awards
2016 Moonlight — Nominee, Best Score at the Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards
2016 Moonlight — Winner, Best Original Score - Feature Film at the 2016 Hollywood Music in Media Awards (HMMA)
2016 Moonlight — 3rd Place ICP Award, Best Original Score or Soundtrack at the Indiewire Critics' Poll
2016 Moonlight — Nominee, Best Original Score for a Drama Film at the International Film Music Critics Award (IFMCA)
2016 Moonlight — Nominee, Best Score at the Phoenix Critics Circle
2016 Moonlight — Nominee, Best Original Score at the San Francisco Film Critics Circle
2016 Moonlight — Nominee, Best Score at the St. Louis Film Critics Association, US
2017 Moonlight — Nominee, Best Score at the Central Ohio Film Critics Association
2017 Moonlight — Nominee, Best Original Score at the Chicago Film Critics Association Awards
2017 Moonlight — Nominee, Best Use of Music in a Film at the Chlotrudis Awards
2017 Moonlight — Nominee, Best Original Score at the Denver Film Critics Society
2017 Moonlight — Nominee, Best Score at the Florida Film Critics Circle Awards
2017 Moonlight — Nominee, Best Original Score at the Georgia Film Critics Association
2017 Moonlight — Nominee, Best Original Score at the Houston Film Critics Society Awards
2017 Moonlight — 3rd Place IFC Award, Best Original Score at the Iowa Film Critics Awards
2017 Moonlight — Nominee, Best Music, Original Score at the Seattle Film Critics Awards
2017 Moonlight — Nominee, Best Score at the 2017 Critic's Choice Awards
2017 Moonlight — Nominee, Best Original Score - Motion Picture at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards
2017 Moonlight — Winner, Outstanding Score - Black Reel Awards
2017 Moonlight — Nominee, Best Original Score - 89th Academy Awards