Songwriter Diane Warren has worked with the planet’s biggest artists, including Whitney Houston, Beyoncé, Aerosmith and Cher. She’s won two Grammys and a Golden Globe, and she’s a six-time Academy Award nominee in the Best Original Song category.
This year could finally see her winning that elusive golden statuette. Warren has two songs vying for nominations this season including “Bleed For Love,” a power ballad belted out by Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson for the biopic Winnie Mandela (also starring Hudson) and “Unfinished Song,” sung by Celine Dion for the eponymous comedy-drama. SSN spoke with Warren about how the two songs came about.
SSN: How did “Bleed For Love,” which also features the Soweto Gospel Choir from South Africa, come to you?
Warren: I read the script and then wrote the song. I wanted to write a song that could be her song to Nelson, and her song to her country. I wanted it to be interpreted both ways. It took me probably close to a week to write because I take time with lyrics. I like the turnaround in the song where “Would you bleed for love” becomes “I would bleed for love.” I wanted to have that thing where the whole time it’s a question until the end, where it’s like, “No, I would do that for you too.”
SSN: What was Jennifer’s reaction when you presented it to her?
Warren: I’ve worked with Jennifer before. When she came over to hear it, she said, “I have to listen three times. I have to listen as Winnie Mandela, I have to listen as me, and I have to listen as a listener.” Isn’t that interesting? I was like, “I hope all three of you liked it.” [Laughs]
SSN: When you know you’re writing for someone specific, like Jennifer, do you find yourself tailoring it to her voice?
Warren: Yes. I was able to have quite a range. That’s a song that most singers couldn’t do. It’s a very tough song to do because it’s two octaves. It might be over two because, at the end, I think she took it past that. Knowing it was going be Jennifer singing, I was like, “Let me make it a true singer’s song, because I had that vehicle of Jennifer’s amazing voice. At the end, where she takes it higher,I was like, “My God, you’ve made it impossible for anybody else to sing this now!”
SSN: You also have the title song to the Vanessa Redgrave film Unfinished Song, which was called Song for Marion in the U.K. When did the movie’s title switch to the title of your song?
Warren: When Harvey [Weinstein] heard my song, he changed the title to the name of my song [for the U.S. release], which was cool. The story is about an older couple, played by Vanessa Redgrave and Terrence Stamp. She is dying of cancer, but she continues to sing in this choir that performs all these modern, sexy, hip-hop songs. With that movie, I wanted to go out on a joyous note because you could be old, you could be any age, but we’re all unfinished songs. You could be 100 years old, and the best part could still come along. I thought it was a cool message.
SSN: Was Celine already tapped to record the song when you were writing it?
Warren: I didn’t know it would be her, so I just tried to write the best song for the movie, which is what I try to do anyways. But this song has vocal range. It has places for a singer to go.
SSN: How did Celine come to record it?
Warren: I went to see her in Las Vegas and played it to her on the piano after her show. Often, I do demos of these songs but sometimes its just best to sit down and play something raw, play it in its pure form. She loved the song.
SSN: What was the recording process like?
Warren: Here’s the thing about Celine, and why she is so amazing. She does her show from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. in Vegas where she’s singing her ass off. Not lip synching, but nonstop talking and singing really hard for two hours. Then she came into the studio at 11:00 p.m., and she didn’t leave until 4:30 a.m.! She probably had the song right the first couple of takes, but this woman is a perfectionist, and that’s why she’s going to be around forever. She would not leave until it was right. I’m like, “Celine, it was right three hours ago!” She goes, “No, no, I can make it better.” Hearing her in that studio, I was like, “Okay I didn’t write that song for Celine, but she’s the best possible person that could have done that song.”
SSN: You worked with Celine on the 1997 Oscar nominated song “Because You Loved Me” from Up Close & Personal (“You Must Love Me” from Evita ended up winning), but a year later, you guys were pitted against each other when you had the Con Air song “How Do I Live” and she had “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic. What was that like?
Warren: Everybody knew her song was going to win that night! But it would be cool to finally win one. I recently worked with Adele, and I told her, “Man, you did your first movie and won! I’ve done, like, 200 movies, and I’m a six-time loser! You won your first time [for Skyfall]”
SSN: Well, you’re not the Susan Lucci of best song nominations just yet!
Warren: In all seriousness, it would be cool to get nominated this year because I love both of these songs. I think they’re really important to the movies that they’re in and really speak to what the movies are about.
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