A version of this story about Diane Warren first appeared in the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
You can think of it as an Oscar-season version of Groundhog Day. At some point in the fall, Diane Warren pops her head out of the cave – sorry, the office – where she goes to write songs, bearing a new tune from a new movie. And when she does, it doesn’t matter whether she sees her shadow or not, because a new Diane Warren movie song means that awards season has begun.
It’s been like that for much of the last three decades. Warren had a remarkable streak beginning in 1996 in which she was nominated for five songwriting Oscars in six years. But she’s been in an even more impressive streak since 2014, with six nominations in seven years, including the last four years in a row.
And naturally she’s back in the race this year, aiming for her 13th nomination and her so-far elusive first win. She’s got more than one song in the mix, but her best bet is “Somehow You Do,” an ode to resilience that’s sung by Reba McEntire in the Rodrigo Garcia drama “Four Good Days.”
The film is about a mother and daughter, played by Glenn Close and Mila Kunis, who are fighting the daughter’s crippling drug addiction. “I watched it right at the beginning of the pandemic shutdown and thought it was a powerful movie with great performances,” Warren said.
“So I came into work, and nobody was in my office — which I have to say, I didn’t mind. That was the silver lining of COVID, that I had no one to bug the s— out of me except myself. So I sat at my keyboards that morning and started writing ‘Somehow You Do.’ I literally just wrote that whole chorus right away, and I had tears in my eyes as I was writing it.”
That chorus, she said, was a key to what she wanted to say with the song: “When you think it’s the end of the road/It’s just ‘cause you don’t know where the road’s leading to/When you think the mountain’s too high and the ocean’s too wide and you’ll never get through/Some way, somehow you do.’”
“I wanted to write a song about hope, you know?” she said. “We were going through the pandemic, so here I was writing this song for this movie, but I’m going, ‘God, this feels like outside of the movie — this is what we’re all living at the moment, where we’re all feeling like life’s punched a hole in our soul and that we’re not going to get through.”
In that way, she added, it tied into other recent songs of hers, including “Til It Happens to You” from “The Hunting Ground,” “Stand Up for Something” from “Marshall” and “I’ll Fight” from “RBG.” “First and foremost, a song has to be right for the movie,” she said. “I thought the song was really right for the movie, but then it felt bigger than that as well.”
The choice of Reba McEntire to perform the song in “Four Good Days,” she added, came from her usual process. “When I’m casting an artist for a song in a movie, it is like a character in the movie,” she said. “That casting is really important. And when I was watching the movie, I was thinking, ‘What would Glenn Close listen to?’ I could see her character listening to Reba McEntire. I felt like she could almost be like another invisible character in the movie.
“And now, if you look at the comments on the Reba video on YouTube, there’s a bunch of them about addiction, but also about depression, and comments saying, ‘Hearing this song made me feel like I can get through this.’ As a songwriter, the idea that a little song you wrote in your room might give somebody strength and hope, there’s nothing better than that.”
As she said this, Warren was Zooming from her Hollywood office – where, of course, she was writing songs. “I don’t need an assignment, I just write songs I want to write,” she said. “I haven’t written my best songs yet. I finished a great one yesterday, and I was working on one this morning. I’m always writing something.”
She shrugged. “I think I’d maybe go crazy if I wasn’t writing. Not that I’m not crazy anyway, but I think I’d be more crazy.”