Donatelli attended Indiana University on a combined football and wrestling scholarship. He graduated in 1974 with a degree in radio and television and turned his experiences in the classroom and on the field into a career as a camera operator for ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Donatelli filmed events ranging from the Olympics, to the Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500, to the World Series and Monday Night Football, winning four Emmys for his camerawork. He also authored The ABC Monday Night Football Cookbook & Restaurant Guide.
While working for ABC, he started his own company, Hav Cam Inc. The company produced corporate and music videos, working with artists such as James Brown, Miles Davis and Neil Young along with bands including Boston, Spyro Gyra, and KC and the Sunshine Band.
Donatelli’s tenure at ABC also led him to major news events. He recorded presidential inaugurations and NASA space shuttle launches, and he filmed for ABC Eyewitness News. Over the years, Donatelli climbed the ranks at ABC, moving from cameraman to technical director and then, in 1993, director.
That year, he entered the world of daytime dramas, directing the series Loving. He moved to NBC to direct Another World for four years before returning to ABC to direct One Life to Live from 1998-2011. During those 13 years, the directing team won four Emmys and garnered seven nominations for “Best Directing Team in Daytime Drama.” Combined with guest slots at The Bold and The Beautiful and General Hospital, his career totals more than 1,000 episodes of daytime drama.
For more than a decade, Donatelli also directed the annual Variety Children’s Telethon, a five-hour live entertainment broadcast with “Cousin Brucie” Morrow that raised more than $20 million a year for children’s charities.
He began documentary work in 2001, producing and directing the series Lean on Me, a post-9/11 documentary series for the Fire Department of New York’s Counseling Services Unit. Now, he’s producing and directing Clearing Larry Floyd, a documentary about a Mississippi man who was brutally beaten by corrections officers during an escape attempt after having served time for what he maintains was a racially charged wrongful murder conviction.
Most recently, Donatelli returned to his football roots and produced the film 23 Blast, the true story of a blind high school football player. The film is available on Netflix and won the Audience Choice Award at Indiana’s Heartland Film Festival.
As a member of the Fort Lee Film Commission in New Jersey, he lobbied for years to encourage the Directors Guild of America to honor Alice Guy-Blaché, the world’s first female director. In 2011, the guild posthumously awarded Blaché its Special Directorial Achievement Award. The Fort Lee Film Commission presented Donatelli with its Barrymore Award for his efforts and success in this cause.
Donatelli has taught as an adjunct professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and has served as second vice president of the Directors Guild of America.