The real article, Neighbourhood Botanicals by Gramafilm.
Written by Abigail Moss
Gramafilm director Tiago Kingwell chanced across local East London skin care brand Neighbourhood Botanicals one afternoon while shopping with his partner. He was drawn to their unusual branding, which uses artist collaborations and bold illustrative graphics to create a stylish vintage feel. It’s far removed from the clean lines and minimalism of some more mainstream brands.
Unusually for a skin care brand, the products are “formulator led”, meaning founder Micaela makes the products she finds most appealing and most interesting, rather than being led by cold hard marketing stats. This also gives her more freedom to experiment, as well as the time to dedicate herself to using sustainable, organic, plant-based ingredients.
When Tiago got chatting to Micaela that afternoon he quickly realised she had a great story to tell.
Having worked as a touring sound engineer for almost 12 years, Micaela had become tired of the long hours, constant travel, sleepless nights and stale toast for breakfast that were all part of life on the road.
She took an online course in skincare formulation and knew straight away that this was for her. A few final tours put enough money in her pocket to set up shop, and now Neighbourhood Botanicals has been her life for the past three years.
Some of her products are homages to her background, with names that harken back to her days on tour, like the ‘Acid Washed foaming facial cleanser’ or the obviously personal ‘Another Year Wiser facial oil’. In the film, she jokes that she had a beard oil called ‘Smooth Fuzz’ which to her sounded like a guitar distortion pedal, but apparently “people didn’t really get it”.
Micaela has a really laid back manner and a casual sense of humour that comes across when you meet her just as it does in her branding. It’s easy to picture her kicking back with a beer on a tour bus.
Tiago and the team at Gramafilm knew all this already, having learned about Micaela and her brand during several casual catch ups at home with her dog Bones, in her lab, and over pints at the local pub. A little under a year after Micaela and Tiago’s first meeting (and with the world on the cusp of a global pandemic) Gramafilm started shooting the short documentary at the lab of Neighbourhood Botanicals.
“We shot on film to get a more humble, raw, candid aesthetic,” explains Tiago.
“There’s a feeling almost of flashbacks with the picture set within another picture, creating two interacting layers of images. We also combined formats by using VHS to make the film more dynamic.”
Micaela’s story comes through in an honest and simple way. She explains that this was one of the biggest draws for her in working with Gramafilm. “Just look at them, they’re really cool guys,” she says, laughing. “Audience’s see right through dishonest branding these days.”
Drawing upon inspiration from Micaela’s background in sound engineering, the team wanted to make sound a central part of the film too, creating textural audio that pulls the film together thematically. “It’s filled with subtleties,” says Richard Perry, Gramafilm’s Head of Production. “I really need to give a shout out to our editor Ross Casswell for that and the team at Sound Disposition who created a full sound design & mix”.
It’s a story that’s extremely relatable on a human level. Living in London (especially East London), it’s sometimes easy to get swept along with the pace of city life. Working too hard and playing too hard. At the same time, this part of the capital prides itself on locality, on getting to know your neighbours, and on championing small business. And somehow, those two ways of being manage to co-exist. On these streets, the frenetic energy of city living is balanced by a slower, calmer (you might even say friendlier), pace of life.
Transparency is becoming more and more important to brands, especially skincare brands, and the closer-to-home approach to the documentary, along with Micaela’s enthusiasm for the filming process, went a long way to creating such an honest portrait. Creativity and openness to experimentation are a huge part of Micaela’s work, both in her former career and now. And of course this is something the team at Gramafilm could relate to. “It was a lot of fun” says Tiago when I ask him to sum up the experience.
Micaela explains that working with Gramafilm wouldn’t have been affordable at this early stage of her company unless Tiago had reached out offering to collaborate making the films. Now, she plans to use video content as a way to build her audience and create a community around her products.
Mixing filming styles and formats, experimenting and building our raw documentary up over time, in the way Micaela crafts her formulas, was a dream project
Tiago Kingwell – Director