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Platinum lady: Songwriter Diane Warren

  • Story Highlights
  • Warren's songs include 'Can't Stop the Moonlight' and 'Because You Loved Me'
  • She started writing songs at 14 and believed she would succeed 'from the get-go'
  • Grammy-winning Warren says the best movie songs 'must stand alone'
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- From "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" to "Can't Fight the Moonlight" and the Grammy-Award-winning "Because You Loved Me," Diane Warren's songs have been recorded by platinum artists, sold millions of copies worldwide and appeared in blockbusters like "Coyote Ugly," "Armageddon," "Pearl Harbor" and "Licence to Kill." CNN spoke to her about her inspiration, her memories and songwriting for the movies.

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Diane Warren, interviewed by CNN's Screening Room

CNN: How did you first become interested in songwriting?

Diane Warren: It's just something I always wanted to do when I was really little. I loved songs; I loved listening to music and the radio. It was something I thought I could do, way before I had any reason to think so.

CNN: When did you first realize you might be able to make it into a career?

DW: I knew from the get-go that I had the drive and the passion; I thought I had the talent. I was probably self delusional at the beginning, but I just worked my ass off. I didn't do anything but work and write and hone my craft from the time I was 14.

Believe me, every time I go past someone in the street with a guitar and a cup -- I'm a bad person, I'm not joking -- I'm like, 'There but for the grace of God go I.' It's true: if I didn't do this there's nothing else I could do. I don't want to do anything else.

CNN: How did your parents react when they found out what you wanted to do?

DW: My parents had very different reactions. My dad: totally supportive; took me to publishers; got me a subscription to Billboard; got me my Martin 12 string guitar that I wanted desperately. My mum: against it. 'You're never going to do anything, it's hard, you're never going to make a living at this -- you should be a secretary, learn shorthand and typing, blah blah.' My mum was more the realist; my dad was the dreamer. But nothing was going to hold me back.

CNN: You've written for so many singers. How do you manage to adapt for each one?

DW: I like writing all different kinds of songs. I've wanted to run the gamut of artists. One day I was in the studio with Reba McEntire, Kiss and 'N Sync. They were all recording songs that day. Now I'm working with Whitney Houston, Travis Tritt and all kinds of people in between. It keeps it interesting for me.

CNN: Are there some rules that apply across the board, no matter who you're writing for?

DW: The song's got to be great, no matter what. That's the rule that I follow.

CNN: What are some of your best songwriting memories?

DW: Good question. I've had so many great songwriting memories. I remember writing 'Because You Love Me' and thinking, 'This song is better than I am right now.' I went to another level writing that song. That was a breakthrough song.

Being inducted into the songwriting hall of fame by Clive Davis, that was pretty memorable. Getting a star on the Hollywood walk of fame, three blocks from where I got arrested -- that was a kick. I was kind of a bad kid and now I have a star...

CNN: Is there a point when you're songwriting that you feel a chill?

DW: Oh yeah; I love when I'm writing something that makes me cry, that's so cool. If it got me to do that, it's going to get someone else to do that. It's the same as someone writing a script for Robert De Niro or Meryl Streep. You see it come alive. When someone great does it and takes it to the next level, that's pretty cool.

CNN: Which artists have you really enjoyed working with?

DW: It's hard to single people out 'cause I've been lucky enough to work with some of the best singers and artists. Sitting at a piano hearing Steven Tyler sing 'I Don't Want to Miss a Thing' in my ear, that was pretty amazing. Anyone from Steven Tyler to Celine to Leann Rimes to Whitney Houston to many other singers. Those are some standout singers; they're the best there are.

CNN: Have you ever read a script and had ideas and then seen a movie and thought 'Wow, I'm changing that!'?

DW: For "Coyote Ugly," I remember seeing the last scene with the song I wrote for it and everyone was watching and I said, 'I don't think it's right.' I knew it just didn't work. And ultimately I told Jerry Bruckheimer I wrote something better, and it was down to the wire; I think the movie was coming out in three weeks and I just had to write the song, record it and get it in there. That was "Can't Fight the Moonlight," the huge hit from that movie.

CNN: How did it feel when you won your first Grammy?

DW: My first and only Grammy! It was cool. I almost missed it 'cause I was late to the ceremony. They called my name out just as I was walking in and I had to run to the stage. So it was great. But it's lonely; it sits by itself on a shelf. It needs a friend; it needs an Oscar to keep it company. They could have lunch together.

CNN: What do you think is the secret to your songs' universal appeal?

DW: I grew up listening to hits, and if I write something I feel, I think that's pretty mass appeal. I'm not very elitist with music. Love is universal; a great melody is universal; it goes around the world; it's not just American. A great song can touch the world.

CNN: Who have been some of your personal influences?

DW: So many. Everything I grew up loving, from the Beatles to Burt Bacharach and Hal David to Stevie Wonder to Jimmy Webb. I was lucky enough to grow up in a time when great songwriters and great songs still existed. The Motown era was just stunning.

I equate a lot of the songwriting now to studio movies: it's special effects. Great records and great sonically and cool sounds, but the meat of the song isn't necessarily there. Just as a movie needs to have a great story, to me a great record also needs to have a great song.

I don't do a lot of conscious research but I'm always listening to things that are going on; I'm like a sponge. It's by osmosis.

CNN: To what extent do you think a score can change the moviegoers' experience?

DW: Music can change everything in a movie. The score is so important. You're not aware of it necessarily -- sometimes when you're too aware of it, it's not working. It has to blend and be part of the experience.

CNN: What makes a good movie song?

DW: A song has to work inside the movie, with the movie but also outside the movie. The song has to be great on its own. When I do a song for a movie I'm thinking both.

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CNN: What's coming up for you?

DW: I'm working with Whitney Houston, Mary J Blige, Lenny Kravitz -- a lot of great stuff. A song in Ridley Scott's new movie, 'American Gangster,' sung by Anthony Hamilton -- it's going to be cool. A lot of different things; I'm always pretty busy. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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