Songwriter Diane Warren is now an 11-time Oscar nominee, netting her latest bid for “I’m Standing with You” from “Breakthrough.” Chrissy Metz, who stars in the film, also sings the track and will perform it live at the Oscars.
Warren spoke with Gold Derby senior editor Joyce Eng back in November about composing “I’m Standing with You,” why she initially didn’t want Metz to sing it, and her take on being one of the most overdue people to never win an Oscar. Watch the exclusive interview above and read the complete transcript below.
Gold Derby: So how did you come aboard “Breakthrough”?
Diane Warren: I was told about it from a music supervisor friend of mine, Andrea von Foerster, who first told me about it.
GD: Were you familiar with the story? It’s based on a true story.
DW: No, I hadn’t really heard anything about it. Then I was at a party and I met Chrissy Metz and she started to tell me about a movie that she wanted me to do a song for and it turned out to be the same movie, so that was really cool.
GD: At that point was the film already completed?
DW: Yeah, yeah, it was done.
GD: So what’s your songwriting process like? Do you prefer to have the film completed when you come onboard? Can you work off of s script?
DW: I could do both. I do prefer to have a movie I can see and then my mind’s like a computer. I write the song that I want to see in that movie.
GD: So what was the process with this? I’m assuming you watched the movie.
DW: Yeah, I saw it and I don’t know if everybody’s seen the movie but there’s this beautiful scene in it where everybody stands up that’s believed, that’s kept faith. It’s about a kid who fell under the ice and was basically dead for an hour. He wasn’t supposed to live at all and he did. Everybody kept faith and didn’t give up on him, so there’s a scene in the movie where the preacher is basically calling everybody out that stood up for him and they all stand up and it’s this very emotional moment with the firemen and his friends. It made me almost sobbing at that point. Next day I came to work and I started singing the chorus of “I’m Standing With You”. It brought back that scene and it made me cry and I thought the song could work amazingly for the movie but it’s powerful outside of the movie too. The times we’re living in are so divided that you could have a song that’s saying, “Whatever you go through, I’m standing with you,” it’s a cool message right now.
GD: It’s also fitting with the arc of the movie and the storyline with his mom in the movie.
DW: Yeah, she stops standing with him.
GD: When you do watch a film that you’re writing for, is it usually a scene like that that inspires you, that triggers you or sometimes do you finish watching the movie and you’re like, “I don’t know where to start, I’m stuck”?
DW: Yeah, that happens too. But then somehow you kind of find it. It happens different ways but that part really stood out to me. That’s what was the emotional high point. It was a lot of emotional high points if you see that movie but it was a beautiful moment and it really inspired that song.
GD: Chrissy sings the song in the movie but I understand you did not want her to sing the song.
DW: No, I did not at all want Chrissy to sing this song (laughs). I thought, “Another actress wants to sing,” and really, this is a singer’s song and I’ve never seen her show, I’ve never seen “This Is Us,” and I was like, “Well can we get Carrie Underwood?” I knew it was gonna be on Universal Nashville. “Can we get whoever,” I went through their whole roster. And they’re like, “No, it has to be Chrissy. Can you just try her?” I’m like, “Ugh.” (Laughs.) So I had her come into the studio and work with one of my producers and I didn’t stay because I’m a really bad liar, you know what I mean? So I left for two hours and I came back and I was like, “What? She’s great.” She blew me away. She had so much feeling and emotion in her vocal and tone. Her tone’s beautiful. She just sang the shit out of the song. Am I allowed to say, “Sang the shit out of the song”?
GD: You can say whatever you want.
DW: She sang the fuck out of it and sang the shit out of it, both. You’re lucky when that happens, when you get both of those things. But I was like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe this is that great.” At first, when they said we’ll try her out, I go, “Well if she’s kind of good, can we put her on with Carrie Underwood?” And as soon as I heard her sing I was like, “No, no one’s getting this song. This is yours.” And then the irony, the funny thing to me is they premiered it on the ACMs with her singing with Carrie Underwood and Lauren Alaina.
GD: So you got what you wanted anyway.
DW: That’s the funny thing, literally everybody on that stage was who I tried to replace her with, so it was kind of funny. But she’s amazing.
GD: Yeah, she sings on “This Is Us.”
DW: I’ve never seen the show so I didn’t know that.
GD: And now she’s recording an album and you’re working with her.
DW: Yeah, done a couple songs. She’s great. She really is, she’s the real deal.
GD: So when you came back after those two hours, were you just expecting to dismiss her?
DW: Me to have to lie and go, “God that’s really interesting.” That’s the word that works. You guys know, when you say it’s really interesting it’s usually not good. No, but I’m the worst liar that I know. I’m a really bad liar but when I heard that I was like, “No one’s getting on that song but you.”
GD: Did she know at that point that you didn’t want her to sing it? Was she already promised that, “You’re definitely getting it”?
DW: That’s a really good question. I’ve gotta ask her. I don’t really know that. I hope no one told her.
GD: Now she’ll find out.
DW: The good news is that she was great and what a pleasant surprise, ‘cause I wasn’t expecting it to be that great. I think that’s what’s great about her. What she brings to her acting is what she brings to her singing, where it’s authentic and you can’t train for that.
GD: When you are writing songs for movies or when you’re just writing a song in general do you always or sometimes have someone in mind for the song?
DW: I’m usually just trying to write a great song but as I’m writing it, I’ll think it’s perfect for somebody or someone will ask me to do something. Usually, I just try to write the best song I can write and not limit it to any one kind of artist or even any one kind of genre sometimes ‘cause the song could be open and done in a lot of different ways.
GD: Well you have written a lot of really sweeping, grand ballads. This one is a ballad too so why do you love writing ballads?
DW: I mean, I write other songs besides ballads but I do love my ballads. I love writing a good ballad. There’s nothing like something emotional and melodic. I do love writing songs like that. I didn’t mean I love my ballads, that came out wrong. That sounded really egotistical and that’s not what I meant.
GD: You do love your own songs.
DW: Some of them, yeah. They’re like kids.
GD: Do you have a favorite one?
DW: I have different favorite ones for different reasons. I love this song. I’m really proud of this song.
GD: I feel like a lot of your latest songs that you’ve written, your past couple songs that have been nominated, there’s a deeper meaning behind them almost. Do you feel that way too? Sometimes it’s just the movies that they’re part of.
DW: It started with “Til It Happens to You,” the song I wrote for [Lady] Gaga and then “Stand Up for Something” and “I’ll Fight.” “Til It Happens to You,” people weren’t talking about sexual assault and it feels like it helped the MeToo movement a little bit, that was at the same time. Music makes you talk about stuff that you would never talk about and makes you feel things. I remember I was doing an interview, it was a group like this and I had never told anybody that I’d been molested as a kid. So to hear my song made even me talk about it. I never told my dad. I told my mom later in life but I kept it secret. I was one of those people that wouldn’t talk about it and here’s a song that I wrote that’s helping people talk about it too. Something like that, I’m so proud of that. People stop me on the street about that song.
GD: What kind of response have you had to this song?
DW: People really seem to love it. I think the times we’re living in are so divided that it’s a powerful statement to say that, certainly a timely statement to say I’m standing with you, when we’re so apart, everything’s so apart.
GD: Well like I said, you’ve had 10 Oscar nominations. Do you think this is gonna be lucky number 11?
DW: I’ve lost 10 times too. I would love to be nominated again. I’m leaning into the Susan Lucci of it all.
GD: I don’t think you’ll have to wait until 19.
DW: That was a lot, yeah. Someone was saying, “You’re Susan Lucci.” And I go, “Yeah, but she won. How many times?” Thinking, “Oh, it’s 10 or 11.” “19.” “Fuck.”
GD: Knock on wood.
DW: Knock my head, that’s made for sure of wood. Just got a splinter from it.
GD: So what are you working on now? Are you just always writing a song?
DW: Yeah, I’m working on a lot of really exciting things I’m really happy about, some good stuff.
GD: Any film in particular?
DW: Yeah, there’s a bunch of films I’m working on for next year. Next year’s gonna be a really good year.
GD: So we’ll see you back here again next year.
DW: I hope so. I’m planning on it.
GD: Number 12.
DW: If this is number 11, yeah, so hopefully.