Composer Toby Chu on Finding Authentic Sounds for Netflixs Found Documentary

Filmmaker Amanda Lipitz’s documentary “Found,” streaming on Netflix, is a personal tale — her niece Chloe features at the heart of the documentary.

“Found” follows three young women, all adopted from China into American families. Through testing, they discover they are blood-related at a time when they are coming of age. Lipitz follows the individual stories as they gradually come together and travel to China for the first time.

Also at the heart of the film is its score by Toby Chu, who Lipitz discovered by accident. Here, the two talk about their journey making “Found” and the music behind it.

Amanda, how did Toby get on your radar as a composer?

Amanda Lipitz: I come from the Broadway world and music is everything to me. Whatever I’m working on, there’s always a soundtrack in my mind that’s helping inform the storytelling and inspiring me daily. I went to see “The Incredibles 2” in theaters, and this Pixar short “Bao” was on before it. I turned to my husband said, “I need to track down the person who wrote this music.” And we got on the phone and started talking about the vision.

Toby, what was different about scoring a short animated film versus working with Amanda verité style? And what discussions did you have about the musical palette of the documentary?

Toby Chu: Amanda was in China at the time and asked if there were any sounds I wanted her to bring back. I had a whole list. I said, “Can you record motorbikes? There’s a market of Chinese instruments, maybe you could pick them up,” and she did and sent them over to the studio.

Lipitz: I remember after he watched the sizzle, he said to me, “I think each girl has a theme, and you don’t hear that whole theme come together until the girls meet when they’re in China.” I remember him saying that, and knowing then that the film was in the right hands.

Talk about the themes that you gave each of the girls. What was that moment like when you heard it all come together?

Chu: I remember Amanda talking about this red thread going to the movie and connecting everyone. So, I think we both had this thought of everything was woven together and connected somehow. There are traditional Chinese instruments used in the score that are used in Western ways; they’re used unconventionally. You’ll hear these country-like guitars in Louisiana that sound like dobros but they’re guqins, and you would never hear someone playing it that way. With the themes, they are woven everywhere through the score. We made it a hybrid, infusing temple bells that Amanda sent me from China. I took a mix of instruments and processed them in ways you would never typically hear.

Lipitz: It’s so important to use the music as a thread to remind us. In the beginning, we hear the nanny’s theme, and that score you’re hearing then, you hear it again and you’re reminded of her, but you don’t see her. We use it to help the audience feel connected to characters.

How did you want to use the score for emotion? One example you mentioned was when the girls finally meet.

Chu: It’s architecture that is doing something from beginning to end. I’d sit and draw a line on a piece of paper of how the score should go. The score has to be transparent, in a way. For those emotional scenes, it was just doing enough where it was inviting you to feel something, but not telling you or swaying you to feel anything specific. It was always about trying to keep things as honest as possible and not manipulative at all.

Lipitz: The best way to describe Toby’s music is that it just cradles your film and cushions it. When you listen to the whole score, it’s like a lullaby, a mother song of love. But it’s a female odyssey that all these people are going on together.

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