Staff Reporters
Nov 4, 2021

Creative Minds: Why Simon Lee loves the moments before the magic happens

We get to know the ECD and co-owner of The Hallway through his answers to 11 questions. Learn how he pursued a love of creativity into a freezing river with 1500 naked people, what might happen to his skin after he dies, and why he probably can't stand Worcestershire sauce.

Creative Minds: Why Simon Lee loves the moments before the magic happens
In Creative Minds, we get to know APAC creatives through their answers to 11 questions, ranging from serious to silly (Why 11? Just because). Want to be featured?

Name: Simon Lee

Origin: Scotland

Places lived/worked: Scotland, Portsmouth (UK), French Riviera, Swansea (UK), Kyushu (Japan), Paris, Chamonix (France), Sydney

Pronouns: He/his


  • ECD and joint owner, The Hallway Sydney (2010 to present)
  • Creative director, Lavender Sydney (2004-2009)
  • Producer and director, Freedom Brothers Films, Chamonix (2003-2004)
  • Senior copywriter, Publicis Consultants, Paris (2002-2003)
  • Junior copywriter, McCann Erickson, Paris (2000-2002)

1. How did you end up being a creative?

I graduated with a degree in French and philosophy and a burning desire to live a creative life. This desire took me first to Japan where I explored Zen Buddhism, wrote dubious poetry and shot innumerable rolls of Super 8 film, and then to Paris. I scored a job teaching English to the creatives at McCann Erickson and from the first day I stepped into the agency (a beautiful cathedral-like building in Levallois), I knew I wanted to be one of them. So I started doing some spec ads, scored some freelance work at another agency down the road, then camped outside the McCann CD’s office for three months with my book until she finally gave me a job.

2. What's your favourite piece of work in your portfolio?

My favourite piece of advertising work goes live later this month. Watch this space. [Editor's addition, November 22, 2021: See "Mental-health campaign brings 'The Cure' for men's struggles".]

In the meantime, my debut documentary feature film Dream Racer is a project that will always be close to my heart.

3. What's your favourite piece of work created by someone else?

There are lots of ads I wish I’d made, and the P&G Proud Sponsor of Mums ad for the 2012 Olympics is definitely one of them. Fabulous casting and direction, great cinematography and achingly beautiful music by Ludovico Einodi that provides incredible emotional power.

4. What/who are your key creative influences?

I love creativity with a burning passion and am inspired and influenced by the full spectrum of its forms and expressions. I recently spent a week at Hobart’s Dark Mofo festival in Tasmania and in the space of a few days watched experimental films projected in a penitentiary, experienced ritualistic performance art, visited “a great chamber of light and deep body-shaking vibrations”, watched the contents of a room gradually disappearing through a hole in the wall, saw a video  installation in a church featuring Tibetan sky burial, attended a viola concerto and an eight hour recital of Gregorian chants, danced until dawn and swam naked with 1,500 people in a freezing river. That’s what I’m talkin’bout.

5. What's the craziest thing you've ever done?

Quit my well paid job a month after the birth of my second daughter and flew to Argentina to make an unfunded movie. I spent three weeks chasing the world’s most dangerous motor race across the Atacama Desert in a rental car.

6. Tell us about the worst job you ever had.

During the university summer holidays one year, I signed up to a casual work agency and got sent to do a shift at a factory that made Worcestershire sauce samples in miniature plastic bottles. My job was to sit watching thousands of samples come down the conveyor belt and twist the ones that weren’t straight to ensure they continued their journey the right way. This mind-numbing day was made even worse by the horrific whiskey-induced existential hangover I was nursing. Recalling this makes me incredibly grateful to be doing what I love for a living.

7. What would you do on your perfect day?

Surf with my daughters, meditate, riff with the creative crew at The Hallway, have a longish lunch by the water, present a game-changing idea to a client and hear them say “yes, and let’s push it further”, have a creative team present me with something that blows my mind, play guitar, have dinner with my beautiful wife at a restaurant in which the design is as exhilarating as the food, dance together to mid-nineties house music, make love, sleep.

8. What movie do you never get tired of?

Il Grande Belleza by Paulo Sorrentino. I want to be [the main character] Jep Gambardella when I grow up.

9. Tell us about an artist (any medium) that we've never probably heard of.

I first came across the performance artist Marina Abramovic through Heather Rose’s novel The Museum of Modern Love. Then I picked up her memoir Walk Through Walls after a visit to the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. I hadn’t previously had much experience or understanding of performance art and Abramovic’s work blew me away. The idea of the artist being both the artist and the medium is exciting to me, incredibly brave, raw and powerful. It’s surely the purest form of living a creative life. One of her most famous pieces of work is 'The Artist is Present'. She sat at a table in a gallery at MOMA for close to three months as people took turns sitting opposite and locking eyes with her. She met the gaze of 1,000 strangers, many of whom were moved to tears.

At about 1:15 in this video is the moment when her ex-longstanding partner, Ulay, took his turn sitting with her:

10. Tell us about your tattoo(s).

I have a tattoo that runs from the back of my neck down to my coxis depicting key scenes from Homer’s Odyssey. I’m particularly fond of the illustrations of Odysseus and Circe lounging on cushions of purple silk in an olive grove sipping wine from gold cups. I’m in discussions with David Walsh, owner of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Tasmania, about my back skin being exhibited when I die, next to Wim Delvoye’s tattooed pigskins.

11. What makes you really happy?

Sitting in a cool room with a bunch of open-minded talented people building on each other’s random thoughts until something magical takes form. I love knowing that it will, but not when and how.


What advice would you give to 10-year-old you, if you could?

I recently gave a careers talk at my daughter’s primary school. My key message was do what you love.

Analog or digital?

Heart says analog. Brain says digital.

iPhone or Android?

I do most of my work on the Google suite, so I love my Google Pixel.

Early riser or night owl?

Early riser and night owl

Who do you most admire?

Anyone who looks within and has the courage to grow.

Do you work best under pressure, or when things are calm?

One of The Hallway’s values is Play Fearlessly and there’s something very satisfying about doing so when the presure’s on. We love it.

Any regrets?

I wish I had attained earlier in my life and career the confidence and humility to ask for help.


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