He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and began practising medicine in Cambridge, Bath, and Bristol.
He is also a journalist and a novelist. Collee practised medicine and wrote several novels before he became a full-time screenwriter. In his third year of practice, he wrote the medical thriller Kingsley"s Touch, which was published in 1984.
Collee subsequently worked in emergency medicine and worked as a doctor in countries like Gabon, Madagascar, and Sri Lanka.
He then wrote a second novel titled A Paper Mask, which was published in 1987. Rights to the novel were acquired for a film adaptation, and Collee wrote the screenplay for director Christopher Morahan, who released the film Paper Mask in 1990.
With income from screenwriting, Collee wrote his third novel The Rig, which was published in 1991. Around the same time The Rig was published, Collee became a weekly columnist for The Observer and wrote about travel, science and medicine.
He kept the job for six years.
When he began writing a book about Soviet medicine called The Kingdom of the Blind, he visited Moscow and Snow. He worked in London for a short time before moving to Sydney, Australia in 1996 to meet Australian directors like Peter Weir and George Miller. Foreign Weir, Collee wrote the screenplay for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, and for Miller, he wrote Happy Feet.
John Collee is one of four co-founders of the Australian production company Hopscotch Features.
He is also a board member of the Australian branch of climate activist group 350.org.