Stella Artois: First in line for a filming permit, inside celebs' homes and remote shoots - the reality of creativity during coronavirus

PJ Pereira
PJ Pereira

Campaign gets the full skinny from PJ Pereira about filming one of the few big production ads of this COVID-19 season.

In the best of times, Stella Artois’ new summer campaign had all the ingredients of a complicated production.

Celebrities, multiple locations, indoor and outdoor sets, choreographers, professional dancers, and a creative brief to both support a global brand message and also inspire U.S. consumers were just a few of the logistics that ad agency Pereira O’Dell had to handle.

Because it’s 2020, add COVID-19, remote teams and changing city ordinances and there are a whole new level of obstacles.

The "You're Never Too Far From The Life Artois" spots, which broke earlier this month, belie all of this. The campaign, helmed by film and music-video director Paul Hunter, are all sunny surroundings and airy optimism.

Running through September on the Food Network, Cooking Channel, POP, TBS and other outlets, "Life Artois" references the emergence from lockdown. Utilizing daydream scenarios, actors Liev Schreiber and Eva Longoria and baller Blake Griffin, as well as ordinary folk, break free, or perhaps just daydream about it.

The campaign follows audio-only content that featured Bravo host Andy Cohen reading short stories by rising authors (Shalom Auslander, Jen Doll, Anu Valia, to name a few), which was easier to produce during phase one of lockdown.

PJ Pereira, creative chairman and co-founder of Pereira O’Dell, tells Campaign US about being first in line for a permit at the San Francisco Film Commission, hiring only dancers who’d quarantined together and shooting from the inside of celebrities’ homes.

As much of California is now closing down again, the Stella Artois ads may also stand out for another reason: Being one of the few "big production" ad campaigns to get made this season.

With so many solitary people in the ads, the campaign does not have the camaraderie of a typical beer ad. Was that by design?

Stella is all about savoring moments together. Stella is a brand that always celebrates togetherness, small groups of people, groups of people spending time, enjoying time together. As we were concepting this, there was no pandemic. All of a sudden, the pandemic hit, and we had to pivot multiple times. We had to keep guessing what the world was going to be like, what work would be like the day they allowed us to shoot.

We had to do a lot of guesswork with this project and that is why we ended up with the daydreaming (theme). No matter what stage we are at, if we were still inside at the beginning of summer or if we were starting to put our feet out of the door, what was that going to be like, even if "that" was likely to be a mental space?

During the height of the shutdowns, did you ever think of going in more of an explicitly COVID-19 direction, as so many have done?

We did not want it to be a COVID ad, but we wanted to be respectful of the circumstances. We need to respect people’s states of mind. We cannot show groups together, people going to bars. We need to be very responsible about this.

It is unusual to have a pre-campaign, audio campaign, such as the Stella Artois summer short stories one, hosted by Andy Cohen. How did this come about?

Audio you can do remotely. This was a little more explicit about addressing the COVID situation. We brought some rising stars of American literature and asked them to write a short story about a summer worth savoring. It was almost like a little meditation. The series always launched Friday at the end of the day to replace the happy hour.

We wanted to get people to close their eyes, relax, listen to a short story, wake up, get a beer… to create a rite of passage between the workweek and the weekend. It is all the same idea: Daydreaming. That people need to be outside, to get outside of their regular life.

What are some of the more memorable elements of a remote shoot?

Stella is a brand that is very particular about execution. It is a craft-driven brand. We did everything we could in pre-production. But during production, it was more fast-paced. We had to be really careful healthwise so we did everything from our homes Zooming in to all the directors on the sets. It was tough.

I know we were the first permit in San Francisco and probably also in LA. Shooting outside was easier. At least we did not need to clear the streets.

For the dance scene (which was choreographed by Mandy Moore and Jillian Meyers, who worked on "La La Land"), we had to get dancers in LA who had quarantined together.

How about working with celebrities? Don’t they require extra things in their riders? How did that part go?

The celebrities were fine with it. It was safer for them to be in their own houses. Everyone was tested for COVID before, everyone wore their own masks. We paid attention to social distancing. Because they were in their own houses, it allowed them to be more comfortable. They used their own clothes, they had their own stylists working with them on the shoot. Eva Longoria was leaf-blowing her own yard. Liev Schreiber was polishing his own piano. These little moments made it different.

This article has been updated to reflect that the San Francisco permit office was not closed at the time that Stella Artois was seeking its permit.

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