Composer Toby Chu on Finding Authentic Sounds for Netflix Documentary “Found”
Director Amanda Lipitz’s documentary “Found”, streaming on Netflix, is a personal story – her niece Chloe is at the heart of the documentary.
“Found” follows three young women, all adopted from China into American families. Through testing, they find they are related to blood when they come of age. Lipitz follows the individual stories as they come together and travel to China for the first time.
At the heart of the film is also his score of Toby Chu, which Lipitz discovered by chance. Here, the two talk about their journey to create “Found” and the music behind it.
Amanda, how did Toby get on your radar as a songwriter?
Amanda Lipitz: I come from the world of Broadway and music is everything to me. No matter what I’m working on, there is always a soundtrack in my mind that helps me tell the story and inspires me on a daily basis. I went to see “The Incredibles 2” in theaters, and this Pixar short “Bao” was in front of him. I turned to my husband and said, “I have to find the person who wrote this music.” And we got on the phone and started talking about the vision.
Toby, what was different between writing an animated short and working with the Amanda Truth style? And what discussions have you had on the musical palette of the documentary?
Toby Chu: Amanda was in China at the time and asked if there were any sounds that I wanted her to bring back. I had a whole list. I said, “Can you register motorcycles? There’s a Chinese instrument market, maybe you could get some, ”and she did and sent them to the studio.
Lipitz: I remember after watching the sizzle he said to me, “I think every girl has a theme, and you don’t hear this whole theme come together until the girls meet when they are in China. I remember he said that and knew then that the film was in good hands.
Talk about the themes you gave each of the girls. How was that moment when you heard it all come together?
Chu: I remember Amanda talking about this common thread going to the movie and connecting everyone. So I think we both thought it was all woven together and connected in some way or another. There are traditional Chinese instruments used in the score which are used in a western way; they are used in unconventional ways. You’ll hear those country guitars in Louisiana sounding like dobros but they’re guqins, and you’ll never hear someone play that way. With the themes, they are woven throughout the score. We made a hybrid of it, infusing temple bells that Amanda sent me from China. I took a mix of instruments and treated them in a way you would never normally hear.
Lipitz: It’s so important to use music as a common thread to remind us of this. At first we hear the nanny theme, and this score you hear then you hear it again and remember it, but you don’t see it. We use it to help audiences feel connected to the characters.
How did you want to use the score for emotion? One example you mentioned is dating girls.
Chu: It’s the architecture that does something from start to finish. I would sit down and draw a line on a piece of paper the way the score should go. The score should be transparent, in a way. For those emotional scenes, he did just enough to invite you to feel something, but without telling or influencing you to feel anything specific. It was always about trying to keep things as honest as possible and not at all manipulative.
Lipitz: The best way to describe Toby’s music is that it just rocks your movie and cushions it. When you listen to the whole score, it’s like a lullaby, a mother of love song. But it’s a feminine odyssey that all of these people live together.
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