Keeping score 

OKC film composer Cory Perschbacher expounds upon his creative process and about writing the score for Out of Exile, which premieres at deadCenter Film Festival June 9.

Cory Perschbacher

Photo provided

Cory Perschbacher

On any given early morning while his family is still asleep, you’ll find Cory Perschbacher firing up his studio computer to compose music for film and TV.

Perschbacher, an Oklahoma City native, wrote the score for Out of Exile, a crime drama feature from writer/director/producer Kyle Kauwika Harris. The film premieres at deadCenter Film Festival.

Perschbacher’s dreams of becoming a film score composer began in his mid-teens.

“The thought of doing music for movies probably started when I was about 16 or 17 years old,” he said. “I would spend most of my time recording instrumental music and imagined scenes to go along with it. I’d shoot silly home movies with friends and eventually did the music for one. I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew that I loved it and wanted to do it again.”

He put his dreams on hold during a stint as a drummer and keyboard player in a few bands. In his time off from performing, he would record instrumental music in his home studio and was often told his music would be perfect for film and video games. Though he wasn’t actively searching for composition gigs, it was a serendipitous meeting in a photo shoot for his band that led to his first gig as a film score composer.

“Our band needed some pictures taken so I contacted a photographer, Ted West, who was looking for music for his film [Bikini Vampire Babes (2010)]. That’s when a lightbulb went off. I only actually ‘scored’ a few cues, while the other music was pre-recorded, but I loved it and knew that’s what I wanted to do from now on,” Perschbacher said.

His work on Bikini Vampire Babes got some attention at the film’s premiere, which led to his first paid gig in film music composition on Adam Hampton’s The Unusual Calling of Charlie Christmas in 2011. Over a decade working in the industry, Perschbacher has 51 composer credits.

Stylistic versatility is key for film music composers, he said.

“One thing that I think is pretty cool about doing music for film is that it forces you to grow and get outside your comfort zone since each film needs a unique score, sometimes completely outside your current wheelhouse. You could be doing a superhero film and the next one could be a love story set in Cambodia. Even when you’re doing films in the same genre, it’s important to still give each one its own sound,” Perschbacher said.

No music exists in a stylistic vacuum, and Perschbacher is constantly looking for inspiration in his own work, whether it’s from other film score composers or simple, everyday sounds.

“When I started, I was heavily influenced by Danny Elfman and John Corigliano, but I quickly realized it was important to get influences outside my personal favorite composers. I get inspiration from all sorts of things. Sometimes it’s a score to a film with a similar tone to the one I’m working on that gives me inspiration. Other times it’s from sipping on a glass of water on the porch and hearing sounds and melodies in my head where I’ll hum the melody into my phone and revisit it later. I’ve also gotten inspired by strange sounds like dry ice, rubber bands and a printing press,” Perschbacher said.

Another one of his inspirations is local cellist Erin Yeaman.

“She’s my absolute go-to for cello,” Perschbacher said. “She really helps the music come to life. She has so much expression in everything she plays.”

The creative process for Perschbacher is usually organic and unique to each project. Sometimes he builds music from the bassline up, adding textures above in layers to achieve the desired atmosphere. Other times, a melody may come to him first and he’ll lay harmony and texture beneath it.

“I go into most sessions with a vision, but the process in getting the film’s ‘sound’ is pretty loose. I may start with one long low note and just build things on top of it. The main melody might not happen until the end. There are other times when I have a melody in mind (perhaps from humming into my phone a few days prior), and I build from it,” he said.

The collaborative process also varies from project to project. Most of the time, he works very closely with a film’s director and composes the music while the film is in production.

“I usually send samples before they go into the filming process and get a head start. Sometimes it influences the film. Once the tone is established, I’ll work up more samples based on the script or specific scenes that I can come back to later when I’m handed the film in post-production. I like to have a good idea of how the score will be before I officially start on rough cut, but it doesn’t always go that way,” he said.

“The communication and collaboration between the composer and the director [are] extremely important. I’ll make sure to stay on the same page throughout post-production. Directors don’t usually know a lot of musical terms so you have to get creative with the commutation,” Perschbacher said.

In other cases, it could be that the project has already been filmed, and Perschbacher creates the music in post-production. “I sometimes can’t start on music until the film is already in post. It forces you to dive right in, and I’ve found that I enjoy both ways,” he said.

Perschbacher works hard to keep his creative juices fresh to avoid burnout while working on a project like Out of Exile.

“It was dark with lots of subtlety. To avoid getting burned out, I recorded fast, upbeat music in my spare time. Not too much, as I want to remain in the right headspace for the film, but it sometimes recharges me to record something completely different and then come back,” he said.

Out of Exile premieres at 8:30 p.m. June 9 at Harkins Theatres Bricktown 16.

“It’s such a great movie, and doing the score was amazing. It has a killer cast with Adam Hampton, Peter Greene, Ryan Merriman, and Kyle Jacob Henry,” Perschbacher said.

For information about Perschbacher and his work, visit coryperschbacher.com

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