Joel Schumacher is to direct The Phantom Of The Opera, a feature version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's hit stage musical which UK-based sales outfit Odyssey Entertainment will launch at next week's AFM market.

Warner Bros. Pictures, which owned the film rights until Lloyd Webber recently bought them back, retains the option to distribute the film in North America. Principal photography will begin in the autumn in the UK. Casting is to be announced, although Antonio Banderas has long been linked to the project.

"I'm thrilled to have the rights back for the film version of Phantom and to have such a brilliant director on board," said Lloyd Webber, who will produce through his company, Really Useful Films. "We now have the opportunity and the freedom to make the film that Joel and I have always talked about making."

Lloyd Webber said that the stage musical, for which he wrote the music, was the largest-grossing stage or screen production in the world, with a world-wide box office of more than $3.2bn.

Odyssey's Ralph Kamp and Louise Goodsill added: "Taking the world's biggest single entertainment franchise to our international distribution partners at the AFM is an enormously exciting opportunity and speaks volumes about what we are trying to achieve at Odyssey."