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Advocating for Filmmakers in the Entertainment Industry With Lisa Callif

September 20, 2023   |   Written by Gladiator Law Marketing
Lisa Callif Lisa CallifLisa Callif is a Partner at Donaldson Callif Perez, a law firm representing independent producers, production companies, and content creators in matters including equity financing, production, and distribution. Lisa’s expertise extends to fair use, copyright, and personal rights issues. Known for cutting through bureaucratic red tape, she has developed a reputation for preserving artists’ voices and enabling the production of stories that might otherwise go untold. In addition to her work with content creators, Lisa serves as legal counsel to several non-profit organizations, such as Film Independent and Women in Film. She is co-author of The American Bar Association’s Legal Guide to Independent Filmmaking and the 4th edition of Clearance & Copyright, and regularly contributes articles on emerging topics in entertainment and copyright law. Lisa has received numerous awards and recognitions, including being named a Hollywood Reporter Power Lawyer and a Daily Journal Top Entertainment Lawyer.
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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Lisa Callif talks about her role at Donaldson Callif Perez
  • How Lisa knew she wanted to be an entertainment lawyer
  • What Donaldson Callif Perez does to help artists tell their stories their way
  • Lisa’s litigation experience before focusing on entertainment law
  • How did the founding of Donaldson Calif Perez transpire?
  • Lisa talks about her book, Clearance & Copyright
  • A milestone in Lisa’s career that makes her proud

In this episode…

Cracking the code of the entertainment industry’s legal landscape can seem like an uphill battle. Filmmakers’ creativity is often stifled by the lawyers they partner with, halting projects in their tracks. But what if you could flip the script and make the law work for you? Enter Lisa Callif, an attorney who has become a go-to expert for filmmakers looking to navigate complex legal terrain. Lisa is dedicated to empowering independent and nonfiction filmmakers — advocating for their creative freedom. Her unique blend of legal know-how and a deep understanding of the creative process has made her a highly sought-after resource in the entertainment industry. In this episode of 15 Minutes, host Chad Franzen sits down with Lisa Callif, a Partner at Donaldson Callif Perez, to explore the legal intricacies filmmakers encounter and how to turn them into opportunities. Lisa discusses the evolution of her career, strategies for overcoming clearance and copyright obstacles, and her firm’s contribution to the resurgence of documentaries.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Gladiator Law Marketing, where we deliver tailor-made services to help you accomplish your objectives and maximize your growth potential. To have a successful marketing campaign and make sure you’re getting the best ROI, your firm needs to have a better website and better content. At Gladiator Law Marketing, we use artificial intelligence, machine learning, and decades of experience to outperform the competition. To learn more, go to gladiatorlawmarketing.com or schedule a free marketing consultation. You can also send an email to adam@gladiatorlawmarketing.com.

Episode Transcript

Intro  0:01   You’re listening to 15 Minutes, where we feature community leaders sharing what the rest of us should know but likely don’t. Chad Franzen  0:13   Hi. Chad Franzen here, one of the hosts of Share Your Voice where we talk with top notch law firms and lawyers about what it takes to grow a successful law practice. This episode is brought to you by Gladiator Law Marketing, delivering tailor made services to help you accomplish your objectives and maximize your growth potential. To have a successful marketing campaign and make sure you’re getting the best ROI, your firm needs to have a better website and better content. Gladiator Law Marketing uses artificial intelligence, machine learning and decades of experience to outperform the competition. To learn more, go to gladiatorlawmarketing.com where you can schedule a free marketing consultation. As a founding partner of Donaldson Callif Perez, Lisa Callif is the go to attorney for all things clearance. Lisa specializes in representing independent producers and production companies in all aspects of content creation, including equity financing, production and distribution with extensive experience and fair use copyright and personal rights issues. 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. Lisa, thanks so much for joining me today. How are you? Lisa Callif  1:21   Hi, Chad. Thanks for having me. I’m doing good. How are you? Chad Franzen  1:25   Doing great. Thanks. Great to have you. Hey, so tell me a little bit more about what you do as a partner at Donaldson Callif Perez? Lisa Callif  1:33   Well, I actually find myself to be really lucky because the area of law in which we practice well, I’ll go back a little bit. I’ve always wanted to practice entertainment law, like, weirdly, since I was a teenager, I kind of thought, Oh, I’ll do entertainment law. I think I grew up in LA. And my dad was a lawyer. And I wanted to be in the arts, but really realized at a very early age that I wasn’t a good actress, I couldn’t sing. I couldn’t really dance. I couldn’t draw. And I wasn’t. I just wasn’t really talented in the creative arts, but I love the creative arts. And so I figured I could be an entertainment lawyer and be a business person around those people who are creating things. So the things that I liked. So I cut to now or cut to 2000. Well, whenever I went to law school was a long time ago. I went to law school and with the eye of being an entertainment lawyer, kind of did other stuff for a few years. And then when it was coming back to me doing entertainment I met with who’s my now partner, Michael Donaldson. And this gets into your question of what do we do. And he had a very small practice representing independent filmmakers, and theaters like all of the live theaters in Los Angeles with the Geffen and the taper, and the Ahmanson and a few others around town. And I was like, What’s independent? Film? What I don’t know, I don’t know what this means. Like, why is it different than representing studio films or representing talent and really understand the different aspects of entertainment law. And after working with him for a while, or very short time really figured that all out. So really, what we do is we represent independent content creators, we used to say filmmakers, because that’s what we did. And now it’s really independent content creators. So whether it be for television streaming platform, web, still, as long as sort of an independent project as opposed to a studio project. That’s what we work on. And we represent producers and production companies, really from the nuts and bolts of making a project. So from the beginning stages of getting their financing together, developing materials, optioning materials, acquiring rights, through production, and everything that that entails. Whether it’s a nonfiction or fiction project, and then distribution, helping them with distribution agreement negotiating those. We don’t do litigation, so it kind of stops there. And then we have the specialty and clearance where and the clearance area sort of most interesting area that we work on. And that’s really vetting projects to make sure they’re legally sound. So when they go out into the world, it’s a day events a biopic obviously based on a true story based on individuals who want to make sure that none of those individuals would have a viable legal claim for documentaries kind of same thing. Also utilizing fair use, which is a person’s right to use a limited amount of copyrighted material without permission for the purpose of comments or criticism. So really, legally vetting these projects, we get to watch projects and vet them and work with filmmakers to make sure when it goes out into the world. One they have insurance distributors comfortable and if anyone comes forward, we know that their claim at least won’t be viable. Long winded answer but yeah. Chad Franzen  4:51   No, that’s that’s fantastic. Yeah, you said you wanted to you said you knew you wanted to be an entertainment lawyer. As far back as high school when When I was in high school, you know, I had friends who probably wanted to be lawyers, but nobody knew that I don’t think anybody would have even known that an entertainment lawyer was a thing or was a possibility. Was that from growing up in a in a legal family or being in LA? Lisa Callif  5:12   I think it was from growing up in LA. And I honestly now that I think about it now as an adult, and as someone who’s seasoned in this industry, I think if I wouldn’t have known what a producer was, I would have wanted to be a producer. And happy I didn’t know because I actually really think my personality is really better suited to having a stable job in an office and somewhere to go to every day and sort of being a producer running around from project to project and working insane hours. I think that would be less suiting for the lifestyle I like to enjoy. Chad Franzen  5:46   Sure. So what is it about, you know, these things, this form of law practice on a day to day basis that’s really particularly appealing to you? I mean, especially now that you’ve already done it for a while. Lisa Callif  5:57   Yeah, I mean, really, it is the satisfaction we get. Most most people don’t like to interact with lawyers, right? Like, they don’t want to pay the lawyer bills. They don’t like their lawyers or lawyers tell them no. And I really feel that in our practice, we have the opportunity to say, yes, we really work with our clients to you know, our kind of our slogan is we help artists tell their stories their way. And that’s very true. Like, we’re always working with them. And I actually was just talking to a client the other day, and she’s like, she was working with another lawyer on another project, that it’s so frustrating working with him, because he just tells me No, whereas when I work with you, you say no, but let’s try this. And so that satisfaction of one having clients appreciate what we do is pretty great. And, and then also, one of my favorite things, my career is when we work with a with a client from beginning to end of a project. And if it premieres like at a at a film festival, or if it’s if there’s some sort of screaming or if we’re all together, and we get to see it come to fruition, and get exposed and go out into the world. And often, a lot of the films we work on make a big impact in the world. That’s very, very rewarding. I love that feeling of being able to complete something with a client and being able to celebrate with them. At the end of the day. Chad Franzen  7:15   During your journey in the legal industry, have you worked in any other kind of law firm or any other kind of with any other types of clients besides those in the entertainment industry? Lisa Callif  7:26   Yeah, so my first job was at a big firm, I worked at Proskauer Rose, I worked in the LA office. And I was supposed to do entertainment litigation, which I did. Some of we represented a lot of musicians. And I helped with some litigation aspects of that. But this was back in 2001. And if you recall that time is a very heavy in securities fraud was very heavy was Enron, Merrill Lynch, like all of these sort of white collar crimes were happening and are alleged to be happening. And so I got sort of sucked into the white collar group. And I did that type of law for almost four years, which I actually loved. And that was really something I knew nothing, nothing about. But it was very interesting way to start my career, I’m spending a lot of time with clients, reviewing documents making, preparing them to testify before different governmental bodies. So it’s not something that I use on a day to day basis. But certainly those client relations and the relations with the partners I worked with at the time, and just learning kind of how to be a lawyer and how to think or, you know, instrumental to becoming a better and better lawyer as I grew up. Chad Franzen  8:38   Did you have to take a different approach to I don’t know, interacting with entertainers, or creators, people like that, as opposed to maybe clients that you’ve worked with, at this particular firm? Or are people the same? Lisa Callif  8:50   Very, it’s actually a it’s a very different about one that was litigation, that was also people, we were representing individuals whose either were facing jail time, or just loss of their entire professional careers, you know, it was like, the stakes are really, really big. Here, you know, we’re making movies, which is awesome. And it’s really fun. And a lot of movies were on are really important and send great messages out to the world. But it’s not the same intensity for sure. No one’s going to jail. Thank goodness, I’m knocking on wood. But it’s also one thing and I’ve told this story before I’ve had I think it was pretty was one of those moments when I was working at my old job, which by the way I loved and I loved partners I worked with they like I still keep in touch with them today and they’re great, but it was they were not my people. You know what I mean? I was working around I was 25 years old, working with 6757 year old white, very wealthy males who often lived in the suburbs and had these big financial jobs and you know, a this is it was very much I didn’t have a lot to contribute to the conversation. It wasn’t really I was just kind of there do my job. And when I started doing this type of work, and there was young women and people with babies and men and all different types of people, all different types of races, and you know, it was so great and like almost breath of fresh air, I was like, these are my people as like, not only can I be their advisors, but I actually really liked them. And we can have, like a friendly relationship. And I’m actually really good friends with a lot of my clients. So that’s another rewarding part. My job. Chad Franzen  10:33   Yeah, very nice. Very nice. So how did Donaldson Calif Perez come about? Lisa Callif  10:40   So I started working with Michael in 2005. And he was really, he was a sole practitioner at the times before I was really the first associate he had hired. And it was just the two of us. And we slowly over time started growing very organically, very slowly. Um, but in 2008, we moved and Michael had a partner at that point, but wasn’t really a partner in business more like an expense sharing relationship. And him and I just talked about being partners, like, you know, it was actually from a selfish perspective, his side because it allowed clients to feel comfortable, you know, here, let me let me give you to my partner, Lisa was supposed to associate, you know, they felt more comfort with that title. And I think he saw He’s much older, he’s actually I don’t think he’ll mind me saying that. He’s like, 83. And he’s more active than anyone I know. He just didn’t I swim in Austria and like, he’s really, really amazing guys. So it was so it was we had this partnership and back in 2008. And then we grew the firm. And, you know, we had sort of having more attorneys now. We’re like 16 attorneys, Chris Perez came on, I think, about 10 years ago. And he’s just been a solid part of the growth of our firm the culture of our firm, which is really important, and just really, really an instrumental team member. And so about two years ago, we made him in the partner of firm. Chad Franzen  12:11   Okay, so you didn’t leave you didn’t like leave another firm to go to Donaldson Callif Perez, you were kind of working. Lisa Callif  12:18   No, so I was an associate Proskauer Rose. Then I joined Michael Donaldson. We became Donaldson Callif. And then two, or maybe three years ago, we became Donaldson Callif Perez. Chad Franzen  12:29   So when you first launched with Michael Donaldson was there like early, early growing pains that maybe you hadn’t experienced before? Or anything like that? Or was it just kind of a partnership, and you went from there? Lisa Callif  12:38   You know, I gotta tell you, it was like a match made in heaven. I’m very fortunate. We, Michael had this wonderful practice and this great reputation amongst independent filmmakers, and nonfiction filmmakers and theatre community. And him and I just really saw eye to eye despite our age difference and everything else, like, it was very easy. It was like, I think we should make this much money. Okay, I think we should hire somebody. Like, I think we should move, okay, like she was very, very copacetic, which is awesome. So, and our business has really grown very much through word of mouth. And we do right, we wrote a book, we actually just came out with our sixth edition of Top clearance and copyright, which talks all about clearance and copyright issues and content creation. And so I think that’s a good marketing tool. But we’ve never had to really do a lot on the business development front, again, knocking on wood. And marketing, we’ve really kind of had this very natural growth and referral for word of mouth from clients that we’ve previously worked on. I also think like, the documentary space, that’s probably 70% of our business has really grown over the last 10 or 15 years, and we were really at the forefront of it. So as as we grew, our clients were growing, the medium was becoming more popular. So it’s kind of like, we grew along with that genre films. Chad Franzen  14:09   Sure. Hey, you mentioned your book, Clearance & Copyright, what would you say are the primary takeaways maybe the people would get from reading it? Lisa Callif  14:18   Um, there’s a lot of takeaways, I actually have a copy of it sitting right here. I’m sending a copy to somebody lands and copyright only to this. I know, but that’s a book and I think that’s such an easy question. I don’t think anyone’s asking me the takeaways are because there’s it’s such a robust book that I was the first thing that popped in my mind when you ask that question is that you can do it, like, so many clients self censor themselves, you know, I can’t do this because I don’t have money. I can’t do this because I don’t have the rights. I can’t do this because I’ll never get permission. And we always tell our clients, don’t self censor yourself, do your project and let us tell you, you can because a lot of people have a more conservative view of what they can do than what the law actually is. So I’ve had that was like, the first thing that came to mind is like you can do it. And this really gives you tools like what we really tried to make as a very user friendly book. It has downloadable forms that you can, you can get in a Word format, so that you can manipulate them like it’s very, it’s not one of those books, it’s like, oh, buy this. And then you’ll have to call us to ask us questions, we’re really like, buy this book, get through your first couple films or your personal projects, and then call us when you have a budget. And we’ll we’ll deal with the more complicated issues with you. Chad Franzen  15:36   Are there some specific milestones or moments during your career as a, as an attorney that you’re particularly proud of, or particularly memorable in a positive way for you. Lisa Callif  15:50   Um, this is getting this might sound weird, I don’t know. But we moved. So during COVID, our lease ran up in December of 2020, in our office space, and so we just gave it up. And we had a small space, that was just like a temporary office space for with a few offices for people to go to when they needed an office space request to me. And then, last July, we moved into our new space, which is more than double the size, and it’s actually really beautiful. And I was very, I was very much involved with the design and the aesthetic of it, and the layout, and all of the decisions. And we walked in, like on the first day in July, and I saw like our team all together, and it was buzzing. And people were chatting, and, you know, I was gonna look around, I was like, really proud. I was just I was very proud, not just the space, I think more so of the team that we’ve created. And I think I’ve had a very heavy hand in. I love our team, we have such a great group of lawyers and administrative people. And it’s really an important part like I want to be able to I want to like coming to work every day by my partner once said, he’s like, we were about to hire, we were talking about hiring them. And he’s like, Well, it’s not really somebody I want to work with. And I was like, Well, you know, we get to decide that. And that is so important for everybody’s mental health to come to a place where they like the people you’re working with. And so anyway, so that day, walking into to the office and seeing the office space, seeing what everyone loved it seeing that the camaraderie around amongst everybody and being back together again was like a very proud moment for me. So it’s not really client related, but it certainly is in terms of the success of the farm and and who we are. Yeah, it was, it was really great. Chad Franzen  17:37   Yeah, absolutely. Hey, who do you consider, I can get here you’re gonna say, But who do you consider to be a mentor? And what is that person’s best advice that you’ve received? Or maybe something that you’ve learned by observing or working with that person? Lisa Callif  17:51   So obviously, I mean, I think you know, I’d say Michael Donaldson’s, definitely my legal mentor, you know, he has been such a great partner and mentor really at the same time, and such a generous and find a way. And I think that what he has, I think one of the things that he’s really imparted on me, is, is really the sort of a compassion and a liking of our clients and what they’re doing and really thinking with, like, how can I help them get through this issue as a put, you know, so many times just feels adversarial? Or like, I don’t want to do this or no, we don’t want to deal with that are just so much easier to say no. And Michael was really interested in figuring out how to get to the Yes. And I really think I have adopted that from him. And really finding out more information that’s always something that you know, we’ll go in and we’ll talk about something he’s like, Well, what about this? What about that? What about that? And that idea of fact gathering and really understanding the whole picture from both sides is really another thing that I think I’ve learned from him so yeah. Chad Franzen  19:00   Yeah, sounds good. Hey, I have one more question for you but how can but first how can people find out more about Donaldson Callif Perez? Lisa Callif  19:08   We have a website donaldsoncallifperez.com. So you can obviously go there and all of our informations, their areas of practice and who we are by us, all of us and standard lawyer stuff. So you can go to the website. Chad Franzen  19:21   Okay, sounds good. Hey, our last question. Are there any daily rituals that you find particularly important? What would be in a particular day? Lisa Callif  19:30   Um, I don’t really have any daily which I will probably do. I don’t have any that I can think of. But I do think that one of the most important things for me, and one thing I hate missing out on like, I love driving my kids to school, like, favorite thing, like starting my day, like chatting with my 12 year old in the car and bring him to school like really kind of sets the day off in a in a great way. And when I don’t get to do that, I’m kind of bummed out about it. Chad Franzen  19:58   Yeah, yeah, I could see that. Hey, listen, it’s been great talking to you. Thank you so much for your time and for your emails. Really appreciate it. Lisa Callif  20:05   Thank you so much, Chad. Take care. Chad Franzen  20:07   So long, everybody. Outro  20:10   Thanks for listening to 15 Minutes. Be sure to subscribe and we’ll see you next time.

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