Independent Narrative Films and Documentaries

Donaldson + Callif provides counsel in all aspects of independent filmmaking, including contracts, unions, financial planning, options, production, clearance, distribution, and tax rebates. Donaldson + Callif uses our expertise to provide advice and consultation in negotiating and drafting in these agreements, as well as assisting in the formation of corporations, partnerships, limited liability companies and advising clients on licensing, sponsorship, fair use and other copyright, personal rights and trademark issues.

We worked on over 50% of the documentaries screened at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and 10% of the nominated films, plus the Oscar-winning ICARUS. 

Fair Use

Fair use is a concept that allows some copying without asking permission or making payment in order to promote the very creativity that the copyright law was designed to promote. Donaldson + Callif is the leading law firm in fair use for independent film.

Michael Donaldson negotiated on a pro bono basis with insurance companies  in creating a fair use “rider” that allowed filmmakers to secure E & O insurance, which includes the use of third-party materials that are not licensed, but used under the principles of fair use. Insurance companies will only accept and consider fair use opinion letters from a handful of lawyers. 

We work closely with our clients to ensure that any unlicensed material used falls squarely within the parameters of the fair use doctrine.  We work closely with E & O Insurance brokers and providers to ensure that our clients’ use of unlicensed material is covered by their E & O insurance policies.


Donaldson + Callif helps television clients from the pitch stage through production and distribution. We advise clients on negotiating option agreements and deals with networks and handle production and clearance work as needed.

As authors themselves, Michael Donaldson and Lisa Callif have developed an expertise in book publishing agreements. Donaldson + Callif represents authors in negotiating their agreements with publishers and work-for-hire writers and artists.


Donaldson + Callif is one of the few LA-based firms that specializes in theatre law. Michael Donaldson’s passion for the theatre earned him the position as Centre Theatre Group’s entertainment counsel over 30 years ago.  CTG produces or presents all the plays at the Ahmanson, Mark Taper Forum in Downtown Los Angeles, and the Kirk Douglas theatre here in Culver City. (Our office currently handles all of CTG’s production, commission and license agreements.) We also represent The Geffen Theatre in Westwood, The Wallis-Annenberg in Beverly Hills, the REDCAT in Downtown Los Angeles , as well as individual theatre producers, playwrights , composers and lyricists.



We understand the intricacies and complexities that it takes to produce a film. This is why our full service production practice works with all principals involved to ensure the production process is as smooth as possible. We represent our clients in negotiating all aspects dealing with the production of a film, including the formation of  single purpose entities and the drafting and negotiation of above-the-line and below-the-line agreements.  We also advise clients regarding rights acquisition, clearance of content, and distribution.


The clearance and licensing of rights is crucial in every sector of the entertainment industry. Failure to clear rights for third party content (such as music, poems, artwork, film clips, and photographs) and personal property can delay or even prevent the release of a project and expose the producer to lawsuits. In fact, most distributors will not accept a work until they are satisfied that all rights have been properly cleared. At Donaldson + Callif, we recognize the importance of clearing the rights of third party material. We work with our clients to determine whether material in your project infringes the rights of any other person, and find the best avenue for clearance, be it licensing or fair use.  We also advise on personal and property rights, including the rights of privacy, the right of publicity and defamation.