As Avatar's global earnings top $US2.4 billion, arguably the happiest men in Hollywood are James Cameron, Rupert Murdoch and the top brass at 20th Century Fox, and Greg Coote.
The Australian-born, Los Angeles-based Coote is chairman and chief executive officer of Dune Entertainment, the financier which has a significant stake in Cameron's blockbuster. Under its three-year, $500 million-plus deal with Fox signed in 2007, Dune invests in all the studio's live action films.
Dune Entertainment and Ingenious Media stumped up 60 percent of Avatar's production budget, according to The New York Times. Coote won't reveal the figure but acknowledges he's been amazed as anyone by the sci-fi epic's record-breaking performance.
“No-one could have predicted this level of success,” he told SBS Movies last week. “Here we are nine weeks into release and it's still #1 in the international market and pushed back a little in the US but still mighty; it's an incredible performance. I always had faith that Jim Cameron would deliver something special. I was honoured to be invited to watch it a couple times (prior to the launch) and it was obvious that something different was going on.”
Coote, who took the helm of Dune in September 2007, can thank his lucky stars the company secured all its funding before the onset of the global financial crisis. He says there are ongoing talks with Fox to renew their present deal.
A US resident for the past 24 years, Coote has served as founding president of Village Roadshow Pictures, head of international theatrical for Columbia Pictures, and for years ran the production company Roadshow Coote & Carroll. In LA he hangs out with a group of expat Aussies who are prominent in the film and TV industries. He belongs to an informal club called The Irregulars who meet most Fridays for lunch. Fellow members include Mel Gibson and his producing partner Bruce Davey, director Phillip Noyce, David Hill, chairman of Fox Sports, and David Lyle, president of Fox Reality.
Last week he took on an additional role, joining the board of Qatar-based media group Alnoor Holdings, which aims to invest in as many as 15 feature films for the international market in the next five years. As to whether Alnoor and Dune could collaborate on some projects, Coote says, “It is possible that as a board member I can help the company grow into the filmed entertainment space. I guess partnerships are possible.
Coote has spent many years involved in Australian movies, going back to his time as co-head of Village Roadshow. He has one suggestion for how to improve the quality and commercial appeal of Oz cinema: “Spend more money on training writers. Screen Australia brought a bunch of producers up here recently and they had a speed (dating) pitching afternoon. I thought the quality sounded great and now we wait for the written word.”