EXCLUSIVE: It was one of the most poignant and heartbreaking stories to come out of the U.S. forces’ fight against Al-Qaeda. Air Force Combat Controller John Chapman, mortally wounded, was first thought to have died in the mountains of Afghanistan in the battle of Takur Ghar. This hero who took on two dozen Taliban soldiers and saved 23 Americans was then left behind when SEAL Team 6 retreated. Evidence is overwhelming that Chapman survived being hit: After the retreat, military video footage shows a man courageously fighting out of a bunker all alone on the mountain and, among other findings, Chapman’s voice was unmistakenly heard on the radio. A true American hero.
The story of the fight and what occurred has been written in a book and is also the subject of a Newsweek cover story “Honor Guard.” Now management and production shingle Thruline Entertainment has optioned an upcoming book from Dan Schilling and Lori Longfritz which is under the working title The Controller: Medal of Honor Recipient John Chapman and the World’s Deadliest Special Operations Force for a feature adaptation.
This is the book proposal that was all abuzz in publishing circles last year that eventually sold to Hachette after a heated bidding war. The book releases next Spring. Adapting the book for the screen will be Michael Russell Gunn whose script, The Virginian, based on the life of a young George Washington sold to Warner Bros. with Bradley Cooper attached to star, Donald De Line attached to produce, and Jason Hall set to direct.
Champman’s story, of course, chronicles what happened in 2002 against the backdrop of one of America’s deadliest battles in Afghanistan. The Air Force Combat Controller took on heavily fortified Taliban forces after being left behind by his retreating SEAL Team 6 teammates. Although the original official military investigation maintained Chapman had been killed in the initial moments after his team landed on the mountain, more recent evidence points to his having saved 23 American lives by taking on two dozen Taliban soldiers trying to down a helicopter loaded with American rescue forces before being mortally wounded. The Air Force has spent 16 years and millions of dollars analyzing drone footage of the battle in an effort to lobby the White House to honor Chapman with the Medal of Honor.
Already approved by the Defense Department, the Trump administration has hinted at a Fall 2018 ceremony. If Chapman is honored, he would be the first Air Force airman to receive the military’s highest honor since the Vietnam War. No matter what, his death set in motion events that affect operations and relations within U.S. Special Operations Command at its highest levels to this day.
“We are honored to be the trustees of John Chapman’s story. His life as a husband and father was as touching as his valor in combat. Dan and Lori are providing us with incredible architecture from which to create this film and I can’t think of a better screenwriter than Michael (Gunn) to bring his story to life,” said Ron West who will produce the feature for Thruline.
Also producing will be Gunn and Matt Garelik, a veteran distribution exec who worked at Fox and Relativity. Getting Chapman’s story to the big screen is a top priority for Thruline, West told Deadline.
Author Schilling, himself a former Air Force Combat Control Technician (CCT) like Chapman, will also serve as a consultant on the project.
This comes after Thruline pacted in a first-look television development deal at A+E Studios earlier this year. Thruline credits include Believer, a documentary film featuring Imagine Dragons lead singer Dan Reynolds that made its debut at Sundance and sold to HBO, as well as the 2017 Hulu documentaries Batman & Bill and Obey Giant about wrestling hero Andre the Giant.
Thruline also produced eight seasons of the hit series Psych for USA Network as well as last year’s Psych: The Movie, also for USA. Additionally, Thruline is in post-production on the feature film Malevolent, starring Florence Pugh and directed by Olaf de Fleur, which will stream on Netflix later this year.
The company also has several TV and film projects in various stages of production, including a new installment of Jeff Ross Presents Roast Battle for Comedy Central. Thruline manager/producer Amy Zvi is an exec producer on Sarah Silverman’s Hulu series, I Love You, America and her most recent, Emmy-nominated Netflix special, Sarah Silverman: A Speck of Dust.
Screenwriter Gunn got his start as a protégé of Aaron Sorkin, spending two seasons on Sorkin’s HBO heralded series The Newsroom. He is currently a Supervising Producer on the Showtime’s Billions and is writing a film for Pete Berg and HBO. He is repped by WME, Artists First, and attorney David Fox.
ICM represented the movie rights in partnership with book agent Larry Weissman. ICM and attorney Todd Rubenstein brokered the deal on behalf of Thruline.