Simon Willows: Eclectic Creativity

24 June 2024

Written by

Louis Bhose

Long before he became a director, and probably before he even knew what the word ‘creativity’ meant, Simon Willows has been making things.

The Sweetshop

Whether it was making custom cassette sleeves with a borrowed scalpel and some pritt stick, or a life-sized spaceman to accompany him into his university interview, Simon would experiment with whatever he could get his hands on. It was inevitable, then, that he would eventually pick up a camera. But when he did, he brought with him all of the other disciplines he’d loved and studied: animation, stop-motion, puppetry, illustration. 

These early years in the film business were spent making short films for fun and working as a runner in Soho, giving him a useful time to accrue a laundry list of anecdotes - none better than the mad dash to get a roll of location stills developed so Spike Jonze could take them aboard Air Force Two. 

Once Simon signed with the world-famous Blink, he started bringing these disparate techniques and skills together, the perfect example being his first ever advert for Nike with Wiedens: puppeteering supermarket chickens. It goes without saying that this was not the biggest budget campaign, but it got his foot in the door, won him a D&AD Pencil, and set out a style that he would come to be known for: humorous, smart films full of heart.

While at Blink, Simon split his time between music videos and commercials.

One week he might be getting eaten by a shark in New York for Kasabian, and then next he’d find himself under a load of vintage furniture while making an advert for Ikea in the style of Alfred Hitchcock.

As Simon’s career progressed - with adverts for Cadbury’s, McDonald’s and Peugeot shot in places as far flung as Japan, South Africa, and Black Island Studios in West London - he began developing what would later become his calling card: the ability to bring together genres, crafts and techniques into one entertaining, memorable style.

Today, we find Simon thriving with his craft-driven, hands-on approach. Whether creating in-camera visual trickery that boggles the mind for Gumtree, going full voxelized CGI for McDonald’s Bonus, or just eliciting funny, humane performances for Prime Video, Simon is in demand from all corners of the globe.

But it’s not just the work that matters - it’s how it comes together that’s important too.

Simon’s sets are warm and welcoming places, where he directs with a clear and inclusive manner.

Wondering how it’ll line up with the boards? Simon has an animatic for you. Not sure how this might look on the day? He’ll whip up one of his famous full-colour scamps. A little worried about how he’s going to get a grumpy baby to ride a tricycle through a town square? Well, with three kids spanning the ages of 1 to 14 at home, this is another area he considers himself an expert (and it’s worth checking out his instagram to see the collabs with his son Wilf on his science projects).

Approaching 20 years in the business now, what drives Simon forwards is curiosity.

For him, directing is the best job in the world, each week offering the variety of a new random challenge directly into his inbox.

And with each new project, he approaches it with the same calm and collaborative approach that has made him the go-to director for dozens of agencies and brands the world over.

So feel free to reach out - and prepare to have your script brought to life by Simon. If you ask nicely, he might even draw you a little scamp.