While a junior at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts, Ryan began to look into various stories for his senior thesis film. Having known the story of Lost On A Mountain In Maine since a young age, Ryan decided to pursue the idea of turning Donn's story into his final film as a college student. After a bit of digging, Ryan learned that the rights to Donn's life story were a little more complicated than he had anticipated and was forced to move on.
Two years after graduating, while working in the film industry in Boston, Ryan and Derek were itching to get back to working on their own projects again. Quickly learning that Derek had also known Donn's story from an early age, they decided to give Donn another call and check in.
After several phone calls, the boys got ahold of Donn and were welcomed for a visit to his lakeside home in Newport, Maine. Donn made it clear that twenty years earlier he had sold his life story rights to three men. These men had intended to make the film, but there had been no progress made for several years. Donn also explained that many people came to him every year looking to make a feature film of his story but had little luck. He expressed his thanks for Derek and Ryan's interest but unfortunately there was nothing he could do.
Not being ones to give up easily, Derek and Ryan began attending and filming Donn's talks and events all over the state. Since the early nineties Donn has visited classrooms in schools all over Maine and New England to talk with kids of all ages about his story.
While continuing to attend these events, Ryan and Derek began the ritual of sitting out on Donn’s porch by the lake every few weeks to talk about Donn's journey. What started as formal sit-downs with the camera quickly turned into three friends chatting and telling stories. The three had become close and thoroughly enjoyed their time together.
Meanwhile, Derek and Ryan were taking phone calls back and forth with the men who owned the rights to Donn's life story. The young filmmakers continued to pursue the opportunity to purchase the rights back, something that hadn't been done in over twenty years.
The documentary Finding Donn Fendler: Lost On A Mountain In Maine 72 Years Later illustrates what happened over the next year in the eventual lead up to acquiring the rights to Donn’s life story. Getting the rights back is just the beginning and something that Donn, Ryan, and Derek will never forget. All three of them know there's a long road ahead, but they continue pushing forward to one day create a feature film about Donn’s survival on Maine's most rugged peak.