'Romeo & Juliet' Producer Nadja Swarovski Talks Money, Movies, Passion Projects

Julian Fellowes and Nadja Swarovski

The savvy head of the $3.8 billion international luxury crystal brand can't call all the shots on movies she's financing. Yet.

Nadja Swarovski has worked in the family business since 1995, 100 years after her great-great-grandfather Daniel Swarovski founded the Austrian-based crystal company. She joined the board of directors in 2011, after having spearheaded exclusive Swarovski collections linked to box-office hits such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Alice in Wonderland and Skyfall. Another innovation the creative and financial head of the $3.8 billion luxury brand ushered in was the creation of a film production arm, Swarovski Entertainment Limited.

FILM REVIEW: Romeo & Juliet

Swarovski’s first theatrical release, Romeo & Juliet  (which opened Oct. 11), is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic tale of star-crossed lovers, starring Oscar-nominated actress Hailee Steinfeld, (True Grit), Douglas Booth, Damian Lewis, Ed Westwick and Paul Giamatti. The film was shot at authentic Shakespeare locations -- in Mantua and Verona. The time period was shifted from the medieval period to the more decorative Renaissance to accommodate the use of Swarovski crystals on masks, ball gowns and hair accessories. The script was written by Downton Abbey creator and Swarovski family friend Julian Fellowes, seen above with Swarovski at the 2013 Cannes premiere of their film

“I loved having Nadja on board the film because she’s a real businesswoman,” Fellowes told The Hollywood Reporter. “She’s creative, imaginative, young and beautiful. But she’s also an extremely talented businesswoman, and in my world you can’t have too many of them."

Swarovski spoke to THR about whom she prefers to work with -- and why -- as well as changes she would have liked to make in R&J and how she will choose upcoming projects.

Swarovski has a long history of working with the film industry, including collaborations with Catherine Martin in her films Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby. With your new production company, what kinds of films are you considering financing?

We are looking for passion products, something we really care about or are interested in, that also links to the Swarovski customer base and to our values. Whether it’s for the sheer empowerment of what the viewer is seeing or whether it’s the educational value, that’s the position we want to take, and to have our jewelry reflected in the film in a subtle way, and our retail stores can help promote the film through the jewelry collections tied to the films.

How does a production company change the financial deal? If you invest $10 million to $20 million into a film, do you then get part of the so-called back end?

That’s right, exactly. That is precisely why ticket sales are very important because that's how we get our return for the investment and why it's important for Swarovski to promote the film. In the U.S., the distributor gets 50 percent and the rest goes to the producers, then remaining profits go on down the line. It's called the waterfall.

Your Romeo and Juliet stars Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld appeared at the Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards in June, an event that Swarovski has sponsored for 12 years. The young actors presented a Swarovski award to a new clothing line called Suno. The New York Times called this a moment of “forced synergy.” Was that fair?

To me, it was a natural evolution. The CFDA Awards are so much about young talent. Yes, we do have young talent in our first movie. So why not have young talent from the film support young fashion talent in the fashion industry? The Times picked it up as 'exploitation.' But I was trying to create a fantastic synergy. Hailee wore a dress decorated with Swarovski crystals designed by Suno. it was super exposure for the designer and she got a great dress. This is what Swarovski is all about: creating win-win situations, being mutually beneficial and symbiotic. We don’t do anything that is random. It all has to fit together.

You formed Swarovski Entertainment in 2011. But it took quite some time to find the right project, which turned out to be one adapted by your friend, Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes.

We were exploring our options at first, and we worked with various agencies such as ICM and UTA and we were sent scripts from various producers to see how Swarovski could get involved. One huge challenge is that whatever I have done in Swarovski, from the creative decisions to the business strategy, it has been my decision. But as a co-financier on a film, it's just impossible. That’s why it's so important to find the right players who are on the same page, have the same vision, the same mission, and want to work in a symbiotic way rather than from a power situation.

You've said that you are forced to be sensitive when it comes to giving creative advice and direction on a film. Can you give us an example of such a situation on Romeo & Juliet?

Yes, the music. I had a very strong sense about which music should be used, and I could not help but think that beautiful music would be impactful to the audience. But different music was chosen. So as a novice I had to step back and say, ‘OK, I trust these people who have more experience.’  As someone told me about Hollywood, there are a lot of camels and everything is done by consensus. You have to hope that the end result is the best result.

STORY: Why Swarovski Crystals Adorn 'Romeo & Juliet's' Costumes 

Do you foresee Swarovski Entertainment’s film budgets going higher than $10 million to $20 million? 

Yes, eventually. We are all about innovation, reinvention, and this is a fantastic business experience for us. But we don’t have all the expertise, so we we are treading cautiously. It's not just a financial investment; it's also a creative investment. We aren't in a rush and we want to team up with the right people on the right projects.

Do you expect to make money from Romeo and Juliet?

I certainly intend to make money. We usually operate on the theory that failure is not an option. But when I hear that only two out of ten movies are a success.… But we are trying to be innovative and cutting-edge. And just like in the financial world, it's high risk, high returns.

Swarovski has created collections for films such as Phantom of the Opera, Alice in Wonderland and Pirates of the Caribbean. Your entertainment division also is looking at financing documentaries. Will there also be a retail jewelry component for those films?

Yes, we are also discussing documentaries, for example, documentaries about water, the environment, and we’re working on ways to make jewelry, perhaps charms that would be sold in our stores, with proceeds going to support these causes. This would serve to make the jewelry a reminder of the cause to the customer.

It’s been rumored that Oscar-winning screenwriter David Seidler (The King’s Speech) is writing your next movie. Can you tell us more about that project?

Yes, David is working on a script for us about the fashion industry. It will empower and educate people so they can understand the blood, sweat and tears that are involved in the creation of fashion and couture. It will also increase the appreciation of the art of fashion as well as reveal the politics of the industry.