A version of this story about Diane Warren and “Breakthrough” first appeared in The Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.
Diane Warren, one of the most successful songwriters of the last four decades, doesn’t typically lend her talents to small, faith-based films. But there was something about “Breakthrough,” a drama based on the true story of a young man who fell through the ice on a frozen lake and was declared dead but recovered, that felt timely to her.
“We live in such divided, negative times,” she said. “And here’s a song about, ‘Whatever you go through, I’m here with you.’ What’s wrong with a song about standing with each other? And what’s wrong with a miracle? We could use some.”
Still, she was initially uncertain what she could contribute to the film. “I first agonized over what I was gonna write for this movie,” she said. “I saw the screening on a Friday and came back and said, ‘God, what am I gonna write for this? I don’t want it to be corny.'”
But she was inspired by a scene in which everyone in the film who believes the man can recover stands up to show their faith. So she seized on that image to write “I’m Standing With You.” “This last bunch of songs I’ve written, every time one of them comes out, it feels like I’m tapping into something,” she said, referring to the recent songs that have landed her three of her 10 Oscar nominations: “Til It Happens to You” from “The Hunting Ground,” “Stand Up for Something” from “Marshall” and “I’ll Fight” from “RBG.”
“The song was inspired by people standing, and yet it’s bigger than people standing,” she said. “I thought, ‘Wow, this could get a message through that’s maybe needed right now. We’re not so far apart that we can’t stand with each other.”
The song brought her to tears in the writing process – “Those ae the good ones,” she said — and she immediately began thinking about who would sing it. She was concentrating on country singers like Carrie Underwood until the studio told her it would be sung by the film’s star, “This Is Us” actress Chrissy Metz.
“I thought, ‘Oh, s—, an actress is going to sing this? Somebody help me,'” she said. “But they were insistent that we at least try her. So I met with her in my studio and then left the room — I didn’t want to be there when she sang because I’m a really bad liar.
“Then I came back and heard a rough comp of her vocal, and I honestly was blown away. She sang the s— out of it.”
Since her first nomination for 1987’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” from “Mannequin,” Warren has been an Oscar staple. But her 10 nominations, four of which have come in the last five years, have yet to bring her a win, Still, the Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee finds herself writing new songs for movies every year, and hoping for the best.
“I love it, and I have fun with it,” she said. “I’m not even thinking about winning. Now that I’m officially the Susan Lucci of this thing, it’s fun just to be in the game.”
This is one in a series of interviews with songwriters in this year’s Oscar race. To read more from The Race Begins, click here.