Spielberg picks next directing job: 'Harvey'

Play first adapted for screen in 1950

Steven Spielberg will soon be seeing imaginary rabbits.

The filmmaker will direct as his next film a contemporary adaptation of Mary Chase's play "Harvey," about a man and his friendship with an invisible six-foot tall rabbit. 20th Century Fox and DreamWorks will coproduce the project.

"Harvey" was first adapted for the screen in 1950 with James Stewart in the starring role as Elwood P. Dowd.

Novelist Jonathan Tropper has written the adaptation for the new version. Tropper is the author of "The Book of Joe," "Everything Changes," "Plan B," "How to Talk to a Widower," and his newest book, "This is Where I Leave You," which will be published this month.

No casting is in place yet. Whether or not Spielberg has him in mind for the starring role, Tom Hanks will almost inevitably be mentioned as one candidate, since he's considered to be a modern-day Jimmy Stewart and has worked with Spielberg on such films as "The Terminal," "Catch Me If You Can" and "Saving Private Ryan."

But pre-production is to begin immediately, with filming set to start after the first of the year as a joint venture between DreamWorks and Fox.

The project will also mark one of the first new initiatives from the reconstituted DreamWorks, working with funding from India's Reliance ADA and a syndication of banks.

The film will be produced by Spielberg and Don Gregory, with Elizabeth Gabler and Carla Hacken overseeing the project for Fox 2000, which acquired the rights to the original play in 2008.

"Don Gregory entrusted us with these precious rights, Beth Gabler and Carla Hacken developed an exceptional screenplay and (Fox Filmed Entertainment co-chairman) Jim (Gianopulos) and I had the easy part: Deciding to go first, before anyone else, to a filmmaker who combines the mastery of craft, tone, wit and insight that 'Harvey' embodies," Fox Filmed Entertaiment co-chairman Tom Rothman said.

DreamWorks partner Stacey Snider added, "This is a story relevant for all times, perhaps more so than ever before. We are so pleased to be able, with Fox, to be bringing this to today's audiences."

Spielberg last worked with Fox on 2002's "Minority Report," and Spielberg said in a statement, "I am very happy to be working again with my friend Tom Rothman who shepherded us through 'Minority Report,' and with Elizabeth and Carla, who I'm looking forward to collaborating with."

For the past year, rather than juggle potential directing projects, Spielberg has focused mainly on producing, finalizing the financial independence of DreamWorks, and moving forward with his 3D motion-capture franchise-starter, "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn," for Paramount and Sony, set for a Christmas 2011 release.

Last year, Spielberg passed off "The Trial of the Chicago 7" to director Ben Stiller, and other than a long-in-development Abraham Lincoln biopic, his other potential projects are still in very early stages of development. Frequent screenwriting collaborator Jeff Nathanson is about to deliver a script for "The 39 Clues," a series of children's books written by Rick Riordan, that Spielberg may direct to launch a potential DreamWorks franchise.

And well off in the distance are a remake of the 2003 Korean film, "Old Boy," with Will Smith starring, and a recently announced biopic about Martin Luther King, Jr., which does not yet have a writer.

Detailed distribution plans for the new "Harvey" were not announced.

While Fox and DreamWorks, which has a new distribution deal with Disney, will divide up distribution, it is expected that Fox, which developed the property, will handle the movie's U.S. release.