Beer is not about football or nachos. At least not if it's Stella Artois. In that case, it's about an acclaimed chef, the sophistication of the '60s, and the intrigue and drama of one of the most famous con-men of our time: Frank Abagnale Jr.
Creativity was invited to Stella Artois "Feast on Film" event, held at the Casa Lever in New York over the weekend. The dinner theater event was an immersive film experience set in an airplane supposedly en route from the New York to Los Angeles. As guests mingled, a sharply dressed man was seen making the rounds, introducing himself as Frank Connors, a lawyer in New York. To get into the event, attendees had to be members of Stella Artois' "La Societe" V.I.P. club, which requires you to request an invitation online to join. Once you have been "approved," you get an account. The club is free to join.
Mother New York handled all creative and production duties, unlike similar film experiences out of London which were created in collaboration with immersive theater specialists Punchdrunk.
The invitations were "plane tickets," and comely air-hostesses that could have been from the Pan Am era were on hand to hand out boarding passes and escort you to your seats.
And what seats they were. The Casa Lever restaurant, which in its natural state is an oblong room with Andy Warhol prints on the wall, was transformed into an airplane, with seats arranged in two rows of three and the booths on the side acting as "premium" seats.
The movie the event was based around was 2002's Catch Me If You Can, the biographical tale of famous ladies man Frank Abagnale Jr., who had a distinguished career pulling off cons as a pilot, doctor and lawyer.
As the pieces fell into place, a number of different men named Frank mingled, flirting with the women and engaged in masculine joviality with the men -- one was an actor, one a doctor, and then there was the aforementioned lawyer. They had all memorized Abagnale Jr.'s backstory. When asked where he went to school and what his father's name was, the lawyer replied with historical accuracy and without missing a beat.
"We wanted to select a movie that Stella Artois fans are interested in," said Alexander Lambrecht, the global marketing manager for Stella Artois. "We needed an authentic story, one based on fact, because Stella Artois is about authenticity."
Before picking this film, the brand, along with Mother New York, had shortlisted others, including Pulp Fiction (the diner dance scene fit the idea of art and food.)
"The experience can only be genuine if every detail was genuine," said Lambrecht, adding that the actors and airhostesses were all trained to know the plotline and never give anything away.
The brand has done similar events out in London earlier, but this is the first time they have introduced immersive film this side of the pond. Earlier this summer, Mother London worked on "The Black Diamond," an immersive film noir in seven parts that took place in London, a follow up to last year's "The Night Chauffeur." Both were to promote the brand's new line, Stella Artois Black.
"The difference here is that we were not promoting Black," said Lambrecht. "This is a program for our Stella Artois connoisseurs, important to offer them exclusive experiences that they can enjoy."
As the movie continued, diners were treated to a four-course meal from chef Jonathan Waxman, including a Stella Artois-inspired ice-cream dessert. Waxman himself appeared at the front of the room to mix his salad and top the chateaubriand right in front of the audience.
In what was presumably the climax, a flurry of checks made out to Carl Hanratty flew from the ceiling, timed with a similar scene in the movie.
Then, the "pilot" announced that we had landed in Los Angeles. As we filed out, Frank the lawyer made one last appearance, this time to say that he was staying in Room 212 at the Ambassador Hotel and hoped to see me there. Staying in character until the final moment, he dropped a kiss on the backs of ladies' hands and disappeared, just as men in tan trench coats and top hats barred the entrances.
"The brand did not want to shout very loud," said Lambrecht. "It was all about our ultimate ambition, to be recognized as a sophisticated brand."
It's a tall order for beer, but Frank has pulled off tougher tasks.