Australian producer Greg Coote became a US studio heavyweight who helped get The Matrix and Avatar off the ground, but he never lost touch with the local industry.
30 Jun 2014 - 2:27 PM  UPDATED 24 Feb 2015 - 10:28 AM

Bruce Beresford is one of many Australian filmmakers to pay tribute today to producer Greg Coote, who died of cancer at the weekend, aged 71. 

In a career spanning nearly 40 years, executive producer Coote was an instrumental force behind numerous local productions from Australia's new wave renaissance. These included Beresford's Breaker Morant  and Paradise Road.

Coote was an early managing director of Roadshow Films before relocating to LA to work as international theatrical president of Columbia Pictures. He returned to Roadshow to become Village Roadshow's founding president and CEO, where he was instrumental in creating a major production deal with Warner Bros that financed films including The Matrix. He then became chairman and CEO of Dune Entertainment, which co-financed numerous international hits with 20th Century Fox including Avatar.

“Greg Coote was a man of affability and charm. I always considered him to be largely responsible for my career, such as it is,” Beresford told SBS Movies. “When Breaker Morant was being financed the producers needed some finance from Village Roadshow, as well as a distribution arrangement. I went and saw Greg in his office; he was doubtful about the viability of a courtroom drama but agreed to invest the $50,000 we actually needed to begin production. 

"Some years later he took my Paradise Road script to Fox and persuaded them to supplement the investment we had already found to bring the budget up to the level where the film could be made.”

In 1982 Coote was made a Member of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List for services to the film industry.

Director David Parker collaborated with Coote on his 1997 comedy Diana & Me, and said that he remembers him as "unique in the Australian screen industry," who offered sage advice.

"He always treated it as a worldwide business and encouraged us to lift the ceiling on our films and never undersell ourselves. He pretty much raised the profile of Australian film and television single handedly; he had a nose for what audiences worldwide would respond to and always found a way to finance projects he believed in. Diana & Me was a comedy that suddenly was no longer funny with Princess Diana's untimely demise. Greg knew the writing was on the wall, but [we] persevered with the film. We should have listened to Greg.”  

More recently, amongst other signifiant positions, Coote became chairman of international distributor China Lion and Screen Singapore. His final credit was as an executive producer on John V. Soto's Perth-shot mystery crime thriller The Reckoning, which will be released locally in September. 

“When I first met Greg at Screen Singapore I was so nervous I could hardly breathe," recalled Soto. "Greg is a titan in the film industry... for him to take time out of his incredibly busy day to meet with some lowly writer-director from Perth was quite extraordinary. 

“When I was ushered through to his office, he instantly sensed my nervousness and simply shook my hand with a smile and asked if I'd like a cup of tea. I agreed, waiting for him to issue the command to his nearby assistant, but instead he starts making it himself! It felt surreal, as was the rest of the meeting, where Greg complimented me on my vision for the script and provided pinpoint accurate feedback on the story. He was a wonderful, self-deprecating and wise person.

"I already miss him greatly.”

Coote's funeral will be held on 2nd July at Santa Monica's Woodlawn Cemetery, with a memorial to follow on 12th July.


Pictured: Greg Coote at an Australians In Film event in 2007.