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Diane Warren Talks About Her Oscar Losses and New Doc About Her

In January, prolific songwriter Diane Warren received her 15th Academy Award nomination in the best song category for “The Fire Inside,”  for the film “Flamin’ Hot,” directed by Eva Longoria. On March 10, Warren held onto her Oscar record in the category for more nominations without a single win when she lost to Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell for their “Barbie” song “What Was I Made For?”

But Warren doesn’t have much time to wallow in self pity. The songwriter, whose catalogue includes “Only Love Can Hurt Like This,” “Un-Break My Heart,” and “If I Could Turn Back Time,”  is due in Austin on March 12 for the SXSW premiere of Bess Kargman’s documentary “Diane Warren: Relentless.”

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It’s a doc that multiple nonfiction helmers have attempted to make, which isn’t surprising since Warren has penned nine No. 1 and 33 top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 and is tied for having written the most chart-topping songs as a sole writer in Billboard history. But the composer is also extremely private, especially when it comes to her creative process, which, until now, derailed any previous documentaries about songwriter.

Kargman’s 91-minute doc was filmed over nearly three years. The director managed to not only capture Warren’s tenacity and individual success, but also her quiet insecurities and unconventional life choices. The docu, produced by XTR, includes famous collaborators Cher, Gloria Estefan, David Foster, Jennifer Hudson and Kesha who help describe Warren’s distinctive songwriting style and approach.

Variety spoke with Kargman and Warren ahead of the SXSW world premiere of “Diane Warren: Relentless” on March 12.

Diane, have you always wanted to be the subject of a documentary?

Warren: I always thought it would be a cool thing to do a doc.

Kargman: In my opinion, one of the reasons you were so excited to make this film is that your songs are your babies. So it’s like someone saying, “Hey Diane. Do you want to showcase your babies and chronicle their lives through something that will live on forever along with your music?” With Diane, it was never about her necessarily wanting to have her own movie. It was like she wanted her music and her work to have its own movie.

Bess, it seemed like it was very difficult to get information out of Diane. What was that like for you as a director?

Kargman: Very early on I learned what it would take to really get the layers that I wanted for this film. I wanted the audience to experience the film through my experience in making it.

What was difficult about the shoot?

Kargman: Diane didn’t have final cut. She doesn’t have control over me. Where she did have control though is sometimes she would say that the shoot was going to be two hours and then all of a sudden she would get an anxiety about being away from her music writing for too long and she would leave before the two hours, which was very, very difficult for me and the crew. At first I didn’t get it. I I thought it was a sign of disrespect for the process and then I realized it actually has nothing to do with the movie or the crew.

Warren: I had songs to write.

Kargman: Yeah. It was more like she had a creative burst and she couldn’t sit still until she got that out of her system. So she would disappear during shoots sometimes.

Diane, other directors have been attached to this doc including two-time Oscar winner Barbara Kopple. What made Bess the right person for the job?

Warren:  Because she’s a pain in ass like me. It was perfect.

Bess, you were able to capture some very difficult moments in Diane’s life including the passing of her cat and her losing the 2016 Oscar for her song “Til It Happens to You” (performed by Lady Gaga) to David Lang. How did you get her to let down her guard?

Kargman: To Diane’s credit, she knows the importance of a narrative arc where the audience understands the central character. So, what Diane knew was that those really emotional moments that I really wanted were really hard for her. She wouldn’t let me in her house when her cat was dying, but she knew I would want that in the film because that was, apart from her songs being her babies, that was her baby. So she knew I would want that and she filmed it for me and then of course, it took me at least six months to get her to hand over the footage.

Warren: I didn’t film it. Somebody else did.

Kargman: Sorry. Someone else filmed it, not with the intention of it being in the documentary, but I think subconsciously maybe there was something there where Diane thought, “I love this cat so much. I will want my cat to be in this film to memorialize my cat.” And with the Oscar, it’s hard when you lose. The last thing you want is a camera in your face with someone asking you how it feels to lose? So we decided to tell that through the lens of Diane’s friends. We were able to document their hurt because boy, they were rooting for her.

Warren: That was a tough loss that year. That’s the one that was excruciating. Out of all the nominations, that one really stung.

Diane, in the doc it is clear that despite winning an honorary Oscar along with Grammy, Emmy, and Golden Globe awards, garnering a competitive Academy Award is still very important to you. Why?

It would be great to win the competitive Oscar, which has eluded me. But, if I had to choose between winning a competitive Oscar one time and never getting nominated again, I’d choose to get nominated again and never winning. I love to keep getting nominated. It’s awesome.

Kargman: Diane used to watch the Oscars every year with her parents. So maybe there’s like a layer of meeting there with the Oscar that is unconscious for her.

Warren: It’s very conscious, actually.

Diane, you are a tough nut to crack, but Bess managed to go deep into your personal life. In making this movie did you feel like you shed some of your exterior armor?

Warren: No. Probably not.

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