This story first appeared in the Oct. 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
When Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes phoned Nadja Swarovski, executive board member of the jewelry brand founded by her great-great-grandfather, to discuss his adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, she happily took the call. "He is a longtime family friend," explains Swarovski. "He said: 'Darling, we're looking for investors! This is my new script!' I thought, 'What a fantastic first step for us into filmmaking.' "
The $3.5 billion global brand, headed by the bijou heiress, launched its film production arm, Swarovski Entertainment, in 2011, with a $10 million to $20 million budget per project. While the company (the corporation is based in Wattens, Austria; SE is in London, where Swarovski lives and works) had been providing bling for costumes since Dorothy's ruby slippers and releasing jewelry tie-ins since Pirates of the Caribbean, this time such ancillary efforts were providing marketing boosts to its own movie. Says Fellowes of Swarovski's business acumen: "Nadja's worked as hard at Swarovski as if she arrived with a potato in her pocket. There aren't many people you can say that of who've been born to the purple."
Unlike productions that kept faith with Shakespeare's iambic pentameter, Fellowes' Romeo (with Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth, out Oct. 11) is "more accessible," he says of the dialogue he added. Distributed by Relativity Media, the movie is the first to be shot in the Bard's original locations, Verona and Mantua. After 600 years, says director Carlo Carlei (Flight of the Innocent), "We didn't need CGI because everything was still intact."
Carlei pushed up the period from medieval to Renaissance because "the richness of the Renaissance is displayed through the deep colors of costumes and on the frescoes." The time shift served Swarovski and costumer Carlo Poggioli well, as Poggioli could embellish the handmade silks and chiffons with nearly countless gems using stones from Swarovski's London showroom. Says Carlei: "There was a lot of fine jewelry on belts and bodices in paintings at the time. Women wore mesh nets … decorated with jewels."