EXCLUSIVE: Former Fox Studios head Bill Mechanic’s Pandemonium Entertainment has optioned Bennett Fisher’s screenplay adaptation for Damascus. His award-winning play was the second prize winner in the Samuel Goldwyn screenplay contest, a finalist in the O’Neill Conference, and has won numerous other honors.

Mechanic (Hacksaw Ridge) will produce with Jib Polhemus (The Mechanic, Night of the Living Dead: Darkest Dawn) of Source Artist Management, which negotiated and sold the deal, and Rick Nicita (Hacksaw Ridge). Suzanne Warren of Pandemonium Entertainment (Hacksaw Ridge) and Dara Cohen (Ring of Fire) are the executive producers.

Damascus takes place after an explosion at the Minneapolis airport. Everyone is on high alert, and with all planes grounded, a stranded teenager pleads with a Somali-American airport shuttle driver to drive him home to Chicago. As the two men cross the Midwest in the dead of winter, they discover that not everything is what it seems. Damascus investigates the seductiveness of extremism and the assumptions made about homeland and security.

“It’s a very personal piece,” said Fisher. “I wrote it to understand, forgive, and even feel compassionate towards a group of people who committed a violent act. Most films I see about terrorism feel very ‘big picture,’ very focused on the larger geopolitical and cultural questions. I wanted to take a radically different approach, to focus on the intimate, the personal. I included the perpetrators among those victims, since their lives are destroyed as well.”

Mechanic said the play was appealing because it was “extremely well-written and had a commercial premise, a thriller done right.” While it started as a play being transformed into a screenplay, Mechanic said they “did some work with Bennett to get it to a movie, opening it up a little more.”

The project has not yet named a director, but has a target in mind.

Bennett is also negotiating with e1 on a TV project loosely based on the world of CIA torture whistleblower John Kiriakou, a former analyst and case officer who was the first to report the use of waterboarding on Al Qaeda prisoners. Kiriakou later served a 30-month prison stint for disclosing classified information to journalists.

Bennett has signed with The Gersh Agency in New York for theatrical representation by Leah Hamos and Evan Morse.