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HomeAwardsContender PortfoliosFlamin' Hot Songwriter Diane Warren Is The Fearless Song Whisperer

Flamin’ Hot Songwriter Diane Warren Is The Fearless Song Whisperer

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Flamin' Hot
Jesse Garcia in Flamin’ Hot/Searchlight Pictures/Hulu

Flamin’ Hot is a movie about drive and passion. The true story of the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos creator, Richard Montañez, was right up Diane Warren’s alley. The songwriter penned “The Fire Inside,” in which she tells the story of Richard’s journey in addition to her own in the music industry.

The pop song, which is performed by Becky G, brims with fun and passion.

Warren’s accomplishments in the film and music industry is long, including 14 Academy Award nominations, a Grammy and an Emmy, and a Golden Globe award — and that’s barely scratching the surface. Throughout her career, she’s captured the heart and soul of movies. She did it again with Flamin’ Hot.

Below the Line spoke with Warren before the end of 2023, in which she told us about her hopes for the new year. “I want to write better songs,” she told us. “I want to have more hits, more great songs. Look, I’ll be honest, I want to be nominated for my 15th Oscar, which I’ll probably lose and it’s okay. Whatever happens, as soon as I stay up all night with my friends, we have a sleepless sleepover, and just hear the name of my song, I already won. That’s the win.”

Enjoy our conversation with the one and only Diane Warren about staying focused through winning and losing.

[Note: This interview has been condensed for clarity and length]

BTL: I was just talking to a friend of yours, [composer] Laura Karpman, about American Fiction. She said your drive inspires her, so it’s fitting we’re talking about a song called “The Fire Inside.” 

Diane Warren (Credit: Isabella Costa)

Diane Warren: I know. I love Laura. Laura is one of my dear friends, and she’s so talented and I’m so happy for her. Her score is fantastic.

Yeah, “The Fire Inside” is about passion. It was the double, how do you say? Entendre? 

BTL: Double entendre, yeah, that’s it. 

Warren: Entendre. I never know how to say that. I’m a writer and I don’t know how to fucking talk. 

BTL: [laughs] Hey, you’re a writer, so you can invent or have fun with words. 

Warren: Okay, yeah, instead of seeming like I’m an idiot. No, but there was the double meaning of “The Fire Inside.” When you eat flaming Hot Cheetos, you will most definitely have a fire inside. And then the passion, which Richard Montañez certainly had, and which I have, and which when you talk about drive, that is what that is. Sorry, I think I went on a tangent there. 

BTL: [Laughs] Not at all. When did you realize you had that fire as an artist? 

Warren: When I was a kid, I knew I was going to be a songwriter. There was no plan B. First of all, I’m useless at literally everything else. I don’t know how to do anything else, so there couldn’t be a plan B. I didn’t know what to do except write songs. I just had a burning desire back to do this, and nothing was going to stop me. 

It takes a lot of work. I was just watching an interview, I can’t remember who it was, and they were just saying, “You know what? When you love what you do, it’s not a job. When you love your job, it’s not work.” So I work really hard, but this isn’t really work. I mean, it is work, you know what I’m saying? But it’s the love of my life. Writing songs is what I love. Writing songs for movies, I really love that. 

BTL: Watching interviews with you and knowing your work, that burning desire has only gotten bigger, right? 

Warren: Oh yeah. Mine is brighter than ever. I’m just hungry. I feel like I’ve never had a hit before. It’s weird. I know some people look in the rearview mirror and I just don’t, I’m always like, “Okay, what’s next? What’s the next song to write? What’s the next movie to write a song for? What’s the next artist I’m excited to work with?” I love the word “next.”

All my friends are on vacations, and I’ve been going to work every day. I’m not somebody that’s going to sit on a beach. I don’t know what I would do. I’d probably last about five minutes, and I’m like, “Where’s the guitar? Where’s the piano? Or where’s there a mall?” ‘Cause I like to shop, too. 

BTL: Where do you prefer to do most of your writing? Is it in the studio where you’re at right now?

Warren: No, we record here. I have a writing room that I’ve had for over 30 years. It’s never been cleaned, and I start the day there. And then I own a building that has my studios and my company is at, which is down the street [from my writing room]. I kind of work at both places, but I haven’t given up. My other place I’ve had for, basically, almost 40 years at this point. 

BTL: I’m curious about your office space. Do you keep it filled with photos, lyrics, or anything that inspires you? 

Warren: It’s disgusting and messy, really. It’s never been cleaned. It’s gross, but I love it. It’s comfortable for me. But people go in and they go, “God, how do you do this? How do you work here?” I’m like, “Well, I’m comfortable in it.” I don’t really notice a lot around me. I’m not as visually orientated as I am sonically orientated, so I don’t even pay attention. I’ll notice something that’s been there for 25 years and go, “Oh, that’s there.” My head’s in music. 

BTL: Since you’re more sonically oriented than visually, how’s your process change, if at all, writing for a film? 

Warren: When I do a song for a movie, I don’t notice my whereabouts, that is what I mean. When I’m watching a movie, or certainly when I’m writing a song for a movie, I’m visually inspired and emotionally inspired by the story to write. When I write a song for a movie, I want to write the song that I want to hear in that movie. 

BTL: I appreciated that Flamin’ Hot wore its heart on its sleeve. It’s unabashedly sincere. How’d that inspire you? 

Warren: I love the movie. I love that it’s a love story between Richard and Judy. It had so much heart. I loved the fact that here’s this guy that’s a janitor and he’s not letting anything stop him. He can’t make any headway, so you know what? He sees the number of the chairman of the company, and why not? He calls him. It reminded me of the stuff that I’ve done.

No one made it easy for me, and I would call people out of the blue, or if I saw somebody, I’d try to give them a song. I related so much to his story, and the same kind of thing where someone’s saying, “Oh, the marketing, it’s not testing well,” and how he bought all of [the chips] himself to make it happen. Someone will say, “Oh, that record’s not working,” so back in the day, we’ll get everybody to call the radio stations, or to start streaming it more now to just get it going. In other words, you have to really rely on your own passion and yourself to make stuff happen.

I’ve always been that person. I’ve always been a self-starter. I don’t wait around for anything. In fact, I chased this movie. If you talk to Eva Longoria, she’ll tell you, I was annoying the shit out of her when she making the movie, because I love the idea of it. And so, as I wrote the song, and I’m going, “Wow, I’m writing about myself, too, or anybody that has a dream.”

What fuels your dream is passion. Someone’s always going to try to tell you you can’t do something. Somewhere along the way, someone’s going to block you, but passion burns down all the obstacles. 

Flamin' Hot
TK and Eva Longoria on the set of Flamin’ Hot/Searchlight Pictures/Hulu

BTL: I did want to ask you about that. Doubt can really deter or fuel an artist. You let it fuel you, from the sound of it. 

Warren: It could do both, because it’s going to get you down because nothing’s easy, but you can’t let it keep you down. That’s what the fire inside is; it doesn’t let anybody keep you down. All of a sudden that fire comes and you go, “Oh, well, fuck that shit. I’m going to make this happen.”

I bet on myself, and I believe in myself, and I always did, even when I had no reason to, because my songs weren’t good when I started out, but I thought they were fucking great. But it takes that to get you to keep working and refining, and just like I said, against every obstacle.

I am from Van Nuys. My dad sold insurance. I didn’t know anybody in the music or movie business. I knew nobody, but I made it my business to find out who everybody was and to cold call people, like Richard. I was fearless, and I still am fearless. If there’s an artist I want to work with, I’ll reach out on Instagram. I don’t care. 

BTL: Did you reach out to Becky G on Instagram?

Warren: Becky G was just the right casting. When I write a song for a movie, I’m like a casting director. Not only am I the songwriter, I’m the casting director because that artist has to be authentic to the movie. I can’t just have some random artist do it in any of these songs I do. You’ll go back and go, “Oh, that was the perfect artist for that movie,” because they are, they’re the right cast.

In other words, Becky G could have been in Flamin’ Hot. She’s a little badass Latino girl. She came from nothing and made something of herself. All of us in this movie, Eva, too, against all odds, it’s not easy for a Latino woman director. She had to fight hard to get the job to be a director on this. 

BTL: Say Becky G or Eva, when do you know you not only connect but want to work with an artist? 

Warren: Well, I knew Becky was the perfect cast. Even if it’s Richard Story and she’s a female artist, it didn’t matter. Someone will go, “Well, why? You have a female?” It doesn’t matter. I’ve had that with other movies before where it’ll be like, “Well, it’s a man’s story,” but it doesn’t matter. It just matters if they’re authentic to the story.

Back to answer your question, whether it’s Becky or another artist with another song, I’m always writing songs and I’ll just go, “God, this song is great for so-and-so.” Sometimes I think I could really help that artist, because what I love to do is take an artist to the next level. A lot of my songs have done that. 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Becky G (@iambeckyg)

BTL: How do you help take an artist to another level? 

Warren: Yeah, it’s like a subconscious, subliminal thing, because people call me the Song Whisperer all the time. I know what the right song is for somebody, and I just could tell as soon as I meet with them too, when an artist comes in my studio, I just know what’s right.

It happened three days ago. This new artist that I really like, he goes, “How did you know this was what I’m going through?” I go, “‘Cause I know, and I have a feeling. You just feel it with this song.” I just felt that I’d met Becky before. She has that fire inside, too. So I knew she’d connect to the song, and she did. 

BTL: On paper, how many drafts of a song do you usually do?

Warren: I don’t really do drafts. I write the song. I wrote down the title, “The Fire Inside” on the way home after seeing the movie. I came up with the chorus the next day. Like I said, this was easy to write because I’m writing it for the movie, but every word in the song is me too. You got places to go. You’re not taking it slow. They’ll tell you you’re crazy. They’ll think they can stop you, but there’s no stopping you. So many people along my life said, “Oh, you can’t do this. You can’t do that. How are you going to make a living as a songwriter?” Well, fuck you. Watch. My favorite thing is, fuck you, watch me. 

BTL: I was going to say earlier, when people ask you about your office, “How do you write in here”? You could easily say, “Look at my hits. That’s how I write in here.”

Warren: That room bought this building that I’m sitting in right now. I never cared what people thought about me or what they think. There’s that saying, “What you think about me is none of my business.” I’ve always felt that way.

When I believe in something, you really can’t stop me. And the funny thing is, what happens a lot is someone will go, “Diane’s a pain in the ass.” Then it works, and then they go, “Diane, thank you for your passion.” It’s like, okay, yeah, right, cool. 

BTL: Are those the days where songwriting does feel like work?

Warren: Yeah, the other stuff is work. It’s like, fuck, man, really? Come on, just listen to me. I kind of know what I’m doing. You don’t have to question me that much. If I really believe that strong, just shut the fuck up. Just shut the fuck up and listen to me [laughs]. 

BTL: [laughs] Like you said, the first songs you wrote, they weren’t very good but you thought they were great. Where’d you go from there? 

Warren: I thought they were great at the time, but again, they weren’t, you got to start somewhere. I learn every time I write a song, I’m always writing and I’m always refining my craft. That’s what I get excited about, too. I can write and go, “Ooh, I just tried this thing here, this lyric, this kind of cool chord here that I didn’t do before. This is a cool bridge. Oh, wow.” I’ll write something and I’ll go, “I just went up another level in my work.” 

Flamin Hot
Brice Gonzalez, Annie Gonzalez, Jesse Garcia and Hunter Jones in FLAMIN’ HOT. (Credit: Emily Aragones/Searchlight Pictures)

BTL: You were confident from the start, but when did you know, OK, I have a voice and this is how to use it? 

Warren: I mean, you get more confidence when you get more successful, but I’ve always been pretty confident. I had no reason to be as confident as I was. I was an arrogant little asshole when I was coming up, not mean or anything, but when I’d go into publishers, I was like 15, and my dad would take me and stuff, and they’d go, “Well, you have potential.” I’d go, “Yeah, I’m going to be the biggest fucking writer in the world, you’ll see.” And then I was like, “I don’t know,” but it’s that thing… I think what makes you successful, you believe you have the fire inside that fire; it just keeps everything going.

BTL: Since the movie shows very healthy and positive support, who did believe in you early on?

Warren: It wasn’t one person, to be honest, but my dad. My dad really believed in me when I was a kid. When I first got into music a lot, my dad was just totally believed in me, and that was really helpful. But besides that, I’ve always been my own cheerleader and my own motivator.

I’ve just always had a serious focus. Focus is such a key. It’s interesting, I was watching a documentary on Warren Buffet a few days ago. His friend were talking, they were saying, “So, what’s the most important word?” They both wrote down focus, and that’s been the key to me, that super focus. 

BTL: I mean, I’m sure you’ve met a lot of wildly creative people, but maybe they don’t have that focus…

Warren: You have to have both. You have to have talent, and you have to have the work ethic and focus. One doesn’t live without the other because you could be super talented, but if you don’t have the focus or the work ethic, it’s not going to happen. And you can have the super work ethic and focus, and if you don’t have the talent, it’s not going to happen. But if you have both of those things and add on a little luck along the way and a lot of passion inside you, you’ll be all right.

Flamin’ Hot is available to stream on Hulu. 

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