Michael C. Donaldson, Partner
Michael C. Donaldson is an entertainment attorney who has been fighting for independent filmmakers for over 30 years. In addition to working on films by such industry icons as Oliver Stone, Davis Guggenheim and Lawrence Bender, Michael serves as General Counsel to Film Independent (home of the Independent Spirit Awards and the Los Angeles Film Festival) and the Writers Guild Foundation. He is the industry’s go-to attorney for fair use (a doctrine in United States copyright law permitting limited use of copyrighted material without permission from the rights holders) and other clearance- and rights-related issues.
Some of Michael’s notable accomplishments include:
- Being appointed to the Executive Committee of the Copyright Society of the USA.
- Being named to Variety’s 2019 Legal Impact Report.
- Being honored as one of Hollywood Reporter’s Power Lawyers in 2010 and 2011.
- Co-authoring with his partner The American Bar Association’s Legal Guide to Filmmaking.
- Being honored with the Amicus Award by The International Documentary Association – an honor bestowed on only two others in the 25-year history of the awards: Steven Spielberg and John Hendricks (founder of the Discovery Channel).
- Serving as one of the authors of the Documentary Filmmakers Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use and being the only attorney in private practice to serve on the drafting committee for the recently released Statement of Best Practices for Online Video.
- Serving on the Advisory Committee of the Stanford Fair Use Project.
- Successfully negotiating with Media Professional Insurance Company and Chubb Insurance Company to offer fair use riders on the E&O insurance policies, allowing many films to be made under the fair use doctrine.
- Assisting in the drafting and lobbying for Orphan Works legislation.
- Being the sole American attorney to assist in the drafting of the Rome Resolution of 2007 to harmonize Fair Use across the European Union.
- Holding the position of President of the International Documentary Association.
- Organizing and leading the Documentary Credits Coalition in negotiations with the cable networks to prevent the wholesale migration of credits from the screen to the Internet.
- Contributing to The Film Foundation’s book entitled City Secrets: Movies.
Michael graduated from UC Berkeley School of Law, Boalt Hall in 1967. His book Clearance and Copyright, now in its fourth edition, is used in over 50 film schools and has become the standard industry reference book. Michael also wrote Negotiating for Dummies (now in its second edition and translated into eleven languages), Fearless Negotiating (published in hardback in 2007 by McGraw Hill) and The E-Z Legal Guide to Trademarks & Copyrights.
Michael has worked on such projects as “This Film is Not Yet Rated” (where all 134 clips were utilized under fair use), “Wanderlust” (saving its filmmaker over $400,000) and “Expelled” (which featured the song “Imagine,” prompting an unsuccessful law suit by Yoko Ono). Michael has also worked with the Geffen Playhouse and the REDCAT, as well as representing Center Theatre Group (Ahmanson Theatre, Mark Taper Forum and Kirk Douglas Theatre) for over twenty years.
Aside from lecturing frequently at law and film schools across the United States and in Europe, Michael is an avid skier, trapeze flyer, hiker and kayaker, and award-winning photographer. He also won a gold medal at the 1998 Senior Olympics for Parallel Bars and a silver medal on the rings. But what remains most important to Michael (in addition to his partner Tim Kittleson and his three daughters and three grandchildren) is his pro bono and philanthropic work.
Lisa A. Callif, Partner
Lisa specializes in representing independent producers and production companies in all aspects of content creation, including equity financing, production and distribution with extensive experience in fair use, copyright and personal rights issues. Lisa is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards – among her many accolades are recognition as a Hollywood Reporter Power Lawyer and a Daily Journal Top Entertainment Lawyer, as well as her recognition by Variety on the Women’s Impact Report and the Best and the Brightest list. Lisa cuts through red tape for her clients and works tirelessly to preserve artists’ voices so that they can shine a light on stories that otherwise might not be told.
In addition to representing content creators, Lisa serves as counsel to multiple non-profit organizations, including Film Independent, which produces the Film Independent Spirit Awards, and Women in Film, whose mission is to promote gender parity in all aspects of media. Lisa is also one of the few attorneys in Los Angeles to represent live theaters—she represents the Ahmanson Theatre, the Mark Taper, the Geffen Playhouse and other Los Angeles-based theater companies.
Along with Partner Michael Donaldson, Lisa has co-written two books: The American Bar Association’s Legal Guide to Independent Filmmaking and Clearance and Copyright, 4th Edition. She regularly publishes articles about emerging issues in entertainment and copyright law, and is often quoted in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Variety, Intellectual Property Magazine and more. Lisa and Michael were featured on the cover of LA Lawyer Magazine, for which they co-authored an article about fair use and its application in documentary films.
Lisa graduated summa cum laude from New York University with a BS in communications, and worked in the music industry in New York and Los Angeles before obtaining her JD from Southwestern University School of Law. She previously served as an adjunct professor at Southwestern, and is a frequent speaker at Film Independent, the International Documentary Association, film festivals and UCLA, where she also teaches legal basics at the UCLA Producer’s Workshop.
Lisa lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Dustin, and her two children, Diggy and Liam.
- Time (2021 Academy Award nominee)
- Crip Camp (2019 Academy Award nominee)
- Free Solo (2016 Academy Award winner)
- Uncut Gems (2019 Film Independent Spirit Award winner)
- Boys State (2019 Grand Jury Prize, Best Documentary, Sundance)
- Eighth Grade (Film Independent Spirit Award Nominee 2019)
- Making a Murderer (2016 Emmy Winner)
- Weiner(2016 Grand Jury Prize, Best Documentary, Sundance)
- 20 Feet From Stardom(2014 Academy Award and Film Independent Spirit Award winner)
- Boyhood (2014 Academy Award and Golden Globe Awards winner)
- Invisible War(2012 Film Independent Spirit Award Winner and Grand Jury Prize, Best Documentary, Sundance),
- Inside Job(2011 Academy Award winner)
- The Most Dangerous Man in America:Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (2010 Academy Award nominee).
Awards and Honors
- The Hollywood Reporter Power Lawyers (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019)
- Variety Women’s Impact Report (2018)
- Variety Dealmakers Impact Report (2017)
- Southern California Super Lawyers (2016 – 2019)
- U.S. News – Best Lawyers® “Best Law Firms” (2019)
- U.S. News – Best Lawyers® Business Edition (2017)
- Daily Journal Top Women Lawyers (2014, 2016)
- Daily Journal Top 50 Entertainment Lawyers (2015)
- Daily Journal Top Law Firm Boutique (2015)
- Variety The Best and the Brightest (2011)
Christopher L. Perez, Partner
Chris specializes in all aspects of the firm’s practice, including representing independent filmmakers through development, financing, production, rights clearance and distribution. He has helped hundreds of productions secure the E&O insurance necessary to distribute their films and has established himself as an advocate for artists’ rights. In addition to representing filmmakers, Chris serves as counsel to writers, podcast producers, radio personalities, museums and foundations, as well as Film Independent, which produces the Spirit Awards and supports independent filmmakers around the world.
Chris has lectured on production, distribution, financing, and clearance issues at the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing, China, UCLA Producers Program, USC Law, the USC School of Cinema, UC Irvine, Cal Arts, the School of Visual Arts, Columbia College of Chicago, and other institutions. He has also lectured for members of the International Documentary Association and Film Independent, and has appeared on panels at various film festivals and the Producers Guild of America. Chris has also written several op-ed pieces for the Daily Journal, LA Lawyer and Realscreen.
Chris has also been a leader on several of the firm’s advocacy projects, including the landmark Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) exemptions secured for filmmakers in 2009, 2012, 2015 and 2018.
Chris graduated from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor with a BA in American Studies and a minor in Film and Video Studies, where he produced, directed, and wrote several student films. He earned his Juris Doctorate at the USC Gould School of Law. Prior to working with Donaldson + Callif, Chris worked for California Lawyers for the Arts, Technicolor, and the Cyberlaw Clinic at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School.
Chris also sits on the Board of Directors for the International Documentary Association.
Awards and Honors
- Hollywood’s New Leaders – Variety, 2015
- Legal Impact Report – Variety, 2016, 2017, 2019
- Southern California Super Lawyers Rising Stars– 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019
- Attorney of the Year – California Lawyer, 2016
- Tiger King: Murder, Madness and Mayhem (dir. Rebecca Chaiklin and Eric Goode)
- The Last Dance (ESPN/Mandalay Sports Media)
- Bombshell (A24/BRON)
- Song to Song(dir. Terrence Malick)
- The Rolling Thunder Revue(dir. Martin Scorsese)
- Knock Down the House(dir. Rachel Lears)
- What’s My Name | Muhammad Ali(dir. Antoine Fuqua)
- Humans of New York(dir. Brandon Stanton)
- The Farewell(dir. Lulu Wang)
- Native Son(dir. Rashid Johnson)
- Shock and Awe(dir. Rob Reiner)
- Minding the Gap(dir. Bing Liu)
- The Front Runner(dir. Jason Reitman)
- Loving(dir. Jeff Nichols)
- Professor Marston and the Wonder Women(dir. Angela Robinson)
- Bernie(dir. Richard Linklater)
- Tabloid, American Dharma, The B-Side, The Unknown Known(dir. Errol Morris)
- 9.14 Pictures
- Associated Television International
- Big Beach Films
- Bungalow Entertainment
- Film Independent
- Granity Studios
- IP Corporation
- Live Nation
- Los Angeles Media Fund
- Mandalay Sports Media
- Motto Pictures
- Moxie Pictures
- National Comedy Center
- Pineapple Street Media
- Radical Media
- Story Syndicate
- The Ringer
- Turner Classic Movies
- Wavelength Productions
- XYZ Films
- Zipper Bros. Productions
Dale Nelson, Partner
Prior to joining the firm in 2019, Dale spent over 20 years as in-house counsel to Warner Bros., most recently as Vice President and Senior Intellectual Property Counsel. As a senior member of the Warner Bros. Intellectual Property Group, she handled a wide variety of domestic and international intellectual property law and transactional matters across all business divisions of the company, providing advice and managing resolution on rights disputes, clearance, distribution, marketing, production, enforcement, IP policy and legislative matters, and providing transactional drafting and negotiation for acquisitions, licensing, and vendor services relating to production, marketing and distribution. The intellectual properties she has managed include franchise properties (e.g., Harry Potter), new feature and television series, and library classics. Dale has a particular expertise in international laws relating to motion picture production and distribution, copyright, trademark, rights of publicity, moral rights, free speech and fair use. A frequent speaker and panelist on a wide range of intellectual property topics, Dale is eager and excited to contribute her expertise to the firm, particularly in the realm of independent films and documentaries.
Dale began her law practice as a litigation associate with Los Angeles based firm Lyon & Lyon, litigating trademark, copyright and patent cases, and prosecuting trademarks and copyrights for a varied industry client base including media clients.
Dale was raised in Green Bay, Wisconsin and is a long time Packer fan. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, her J.D. from the University of San Francisco School of Law, and was an extern to Justice Allen E. Broussard of the California Supreme Court. Her affiliations include AIPPI/AIPLA, of which she serves on the Standing Committee on Copyright and Treasurer of the US Chapter; Los Angeles Copyright Society; and Copyright Society of the USA. Dale is also a long-time supporter of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, of which she is a former board member and current Development Committee Member.
Julie M. Philips, Partner
Julie M. Philips joined Donaldson + Callif in 2019 to lead the firm’s production legal practice. With over 20 years of experience in her own practice, following 11 years with the Bloom Hergott firm working with such A-list clients as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, John Hughes, Bruce Willis and Kim Basinger, Julie has established a loyal roster of clients for whom she provides business affairs and legal services in all aspects of production, including A24, Scott Rudin Productions, IAC Films and Netflix. Julie’s high-level experience as an advocate for artists and production companies gives her a unique understanding of the objectives of all parties to any negotiation. Her work includes negotiating and documenting financing and distribution agreements, above- and below-the-line employment agreements, rights acquisitions, location and facilities agreements, and clearances and releases, including complex arrangements for the acquisition of adaptation and remake rights in the works of world-renowned playrights (e.g., Tom Stoppard) and international filmmakers (e.g., Akira Kurosawa). Representative of recent projects for which Julie has successfully negotiated the major production-related agreements are Uncut Gems, Macbeth, Lady Bird, Sergio, The Humans, The Kissing Booth 2 and 3, Triple Frontier, Eighth Grade and The Meyerowitz Stories.
A native New Yorker, Julie earned her undergraduate degree with honors in political science and economics from Skidmore College in New York, and her J.D. from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. Julie lives in Los Angeles with her twins, Rachel and Ben.
Nick S. Marell, Associate
Nick joined Donaldson + Callif in 2019. Nick brings years of entertainment legal and business affairs experience to Donaldson + Callif. Prior to joining the firm, the Florida native practiced for five years in Lionsgate’s Television Business and Legal Affairs department. At Lionsgate, he counseled the studio throughout the development and production of scripted and unscripted television projects across a wide array of distributors and ever-changing business models.
Nick began his career working on sets as a production coordinator and line producer. This first-hand experience gives him a unique perspective on the work of the firm’s clients. From there, Nick dug deeper into the independent side of the entertainment industry as part of the film and television company Amasia. Nick’s range of experience offers him the flexibility, insight, and perspective to help each of his clients produce their projects.
A graduate of George Washington University, with a B.A. in Political Communications (and a member of Phi Beta Kappa), Nick graduated from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
Nick lives with his wife Sherry Levine in Studio City.
Katy R. Alimohammadi, Associate
Katy Alimohammadi joined Donaldson + Callif, LLP in 2014. Katy is an avid fan of independent filmmaking and specializes in representing filmmakers in all stages of their projects, including production legal services, rights clearance and distribution.
After graduating summa cum laude from UCLA with a B.A. in History, Katy went on to receive her law degree in 2015 from UCLA School of Law. While in law school, Katy was a managing editor for the UCLA Journal of Environmental Law and Policy and volunteered all three years for the UCLA Reentry Clinic, where she assisted people in the community in obtaining jobs and ensuring their employers followed existing anti-discrimination laws.
Before coming to work at Donaldson + Callif during her second and third years of law school, Katy worked on the documentary film The Battered Bastards of Baseball (Netflix 2014), where she learned many of the intricacies of documentary filmmaking and was first introduced to the fair use doctrine. Once at Donaldson + Callif, Katy contributed to Michael Donaldson and Lisa Callif’s book Clearance and Copyright, 4th Edition.
Alexandre M. Yousefzadeh, Associate
Alex Yousefzadeh joined the team at Donaldson + Callif in 2015. He works in all areas of the firm’s entertainment and media law practice, advising clients through the various stages of corporate structuring, development, financing, production, rights acquisition, clearance, and distribution.
Alex received his B.A. from New York University’s Gallatin School in 2012, in the interdisciplinary study of medicine, psychology, and media. After his time at NYU, Alex moved back to Los Angeles and enrolled in the Southwestern University School of Law, where he focused on intellectual property law and practical entertainment courses.
Before receiving his J.D. from Southwestern in 2016, Alex worked at Donaldson + Callif as an intern and law clerk, where he assisted the firm’s partners with research and clearance projects, familiarizing himself with the fair use doctrine. As a law clerk, Alex also devised several guides to assist Donaldson + Callif’s clients to locate rights-holders of copyrighted materials, bridging the gap posed by the lack of orphan works legislation in the United States.
Jonathan Fisher, Associate
Jonathan joined Donaldson + Callif in 2019. Jonathan works in all aspects of the firm’s practice, including representing filmmakers and media companies through the various stages of production including development, rights acquisition, clearance, and distribution.
Prior to joining the firm, Jonathan was in-house counsel at Beachbody (the world’s largest at-home fitness company), where he was responsible for all aspects of production for their premium digital content. This included the development and execution of fully involved requirements for new productions and negotiating partnership deals with large technology vendors for their streaming platform (VOD, SaaS, Cloud, and IT service agreements).
Jonathan graduated from Florida State University with a B.A. in Political Science and, during that time, was also an active member of the FSU Marching Chiefs and Student Life Cinema. Following his undergraduate degree, Jonathan attended Quinnipiac University School of Law in Connecticut and was a member of the Civil Justice Clinic and a law clerk at the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. He pursued his passion for media law through his membership with the Sports and Entertainment Law Society and in his third year of law school, was the sole law clerk at ESPN. He received his Juris Doctorate in 2015 with an emphasis and honors in Intellectual Property Law.
Jonathan is driven by a lifelong devotion to the craft of storytelling, and has dedicated his career to the support and protection of that creative expression.
Natalie Locke, Associate
Natalie joined Donaldson + Callif in 2021. Natalie specializes in representing filmmakers through development, financing, production, rights acquisitions and distribution.
Natalie is passionate about helping independent film makers structure projects from the ground up to fruition. Prior to joining the firm, Natalie established her own production legal and business affairs practice specializing in film, television, and new media, where she guided domestic and international projects of all budget levels through financing, development, production and distribution. Natalie routinely negotiated rights acquisition agreements, investment agreements, talent agreements, above-the-line and below-the-line production documents, music licenses, composer agreements, and distribution agreements, and interfaced with guilds and unions on behalf of her clients. Her business affairs experience includes structuring offers for and negotiating deals with A-list talent, and creating the profit sharing structure for independently financed productions.
Natalie is also strongly skilled in negotiating settlements to resolve disputes. Formerly an intellectual property litigator, Natalie has prosecuted copyright and trademark claims, and has appeared before the Northern and Central United States District Courts of California.
Natalie graduated magna cum laude from UCLA in 2005 with a B.A. in English and a minor in Political Science, and obtained her J.D. from the U.C. Berkeley School of Law, Boalt Hall in 2008. She enjoys film festivals, and has been a SXSW Film Mentor offering one-on-one business affairs and legal guidance for filmmakers. Natalie is a yogi, and a mother of two.
Madison Karsenty, Associate
Madison joined Donaldson + Callif in 2021. Madison works in all areas of the firm’s entertainment and media law practice, including rights acquisition, clearance, and distribution. Prior to joining the firm, Madison worked in Business and Legal Affairs at Media Arts Lab, where she advised on all aspects of production legal for a number of international marketing campaigns, and at Verizon Media Group, where she handled negotiations relating to development, financing, and distribution of the company’s unscripted slate.
Madison received her B.A. in Political Science from Loyola Marymount University in 2010. After her time at LMU, Madison moved to South Carolina and enrolled in the Charleston School of Law, where she focused on constitutional law courses. After graduating summa cum laude from Charleston School of Law in 2013, Madison returned to Los Angeles and began her own boutique practice, where she counseled a roster of clients, which included apparel start-ups, co-working spaces, and an entertainment-related non-profit organization on a variety of legal matters.
Madison is passionate about documentary films. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two children, and dog.
Mark L. Milshteyn, Associate
Mark Milshteyn joined Donaldson + Callif in 2021. Mark operates in the firm’s production legal practice, where he represents clients with rights acquisitions, development and production.
Prior to joining the firm, Mark was head of business and legal affairs for Irwin Entertainment and counseled the company through development, production and delivery of their unscripted and scripted projects. Mark graduated from the University of California, San Diego with a bachelor’s degree in communication and minor in business. After graduating from UCSD, Mark earned his law degree at Pepperdine University School of Law. At Pepperdine, Mark worked in Uganda and Rwanda with the school’s Global Justice Program and expanded their London Study Abroad internship slate to include Working Title Films.
Mark lives in West Hollywood, near his favorite morning walk in Runyon Canyon, and is proud to have the opportunity to enable filmmakers and production companies manifest their creative visions.
Alexa N. DeSantis, Associate
Alexa DeSantis joined Donaldson + Callif, LLP in 2020. Driven to protect clients’ creative freedom, Alexa works in all areas of the firm’s entertainment and media law practice, including rights clearance, production legal, and distribution.
Alexa received her B.A. from the University of Notre Dame in 2017, where she majored in both political science and peace studies. After attaining her undergraduate degree, Alexa moved back to California and enrolled in Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. While in law school, Alexa obtained a concentration in Intellectual Property Law and was on the staff of the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review.
Prior to receiving her J.D. from Loyola Law School in 2020, Alexa worked at Donaldson + Callif as an intern in her second and third years of law school. During that time, Alexa gained experience with the fair use doctrine and assisted the firm in its clearance and production legal practices. She also gained exposure to many aspects of entertainment law through her legal internships at Cutting Edge Group and Lionsgate.
Sarah M. Schwarzman, Associate
Sarah Schwarzman joined Donaldson + Callif in 2019. Fueled by her passion for storytelling and independent film, Sarah represents clients producing film, television, and web content primarily in matters concerning rights clearance, production legal, and distribution.
Prior to becoming an attorney, Sarah graduated from Boston University in 2010, majoring in film and television studies. After college, Sarah worked at The Gersh Agency in Film Finance & Distribution, assisting clients with packaging and selling distribution rights to their films. Sarah has also worked in scripted television production and produced a “parody” web-series that she now realizes likely constituted copyright infringement.
Thankfully, after sidelining her web-series dreams, Sarah attended Southwestern University School of Law where she graduated cum laude with an honors designation in Southwestern’s Entertainment and Media Law JD concentration in 2020. While in law school, she served as Senior Lead Articles Editor of the Southwestern Law Review, received a Biederman Scholarship award from Southwestern’s Donald E. Biederman Entertainment and Media Law Institute for her academic achievements, and worked as a teaching assistant in legal writing. Additionally, Sarah interned at VICE studios in business affairs, Voltage Pictures with a focus on distribution agreements, and Donaldson + Callif, where she continues to work.
Sarah currently lives with her two mini-poodles, Herschel and Fievel, and is grateful to be in the business of empowering filmmakers and the creative process.