Steven Spielberg’s next project will be directing Harvey, to be co-financed by 20th Century Fox and DreamWorks Studios.

Fox Chairmen Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman and DreamWorks partners Stacey Snider and Spielberg announced the project.

Casting and pre-production will start now with an eye to shoot at the start of 2010.

Novelist Jonathan Tropper (The Book of Joe, Everything Changes) is on board to write his first screenplay, creating a contemporary adaptation of Mary Chase’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play. The story follows eccentric man Elwood P Dowd, and his friendship with an invisible, giant rabbit.

The play ran on Broadway from 1949-1950 and was adapted for the big screen in 1950, with Jimmy Stewart starring for Universal.

Spielberg and Don Gregory will produce. Elizabeth Gablre and Carla Hacken will oversee for Fox 2000, which acquired the play rights in 2008.

Distribution rights are yet to be determined; Disney could have some rights under their deal with DreamWorks. Fox is likely to choose which rights it wants since it optioned the play and initiated the project.

“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,” Spielberg said in a statement. “DreamWorks has experienced a creative and profitable relationship with Twentieth Century Fox in the past, and I look forward to renewing that time together.”

Rothman added: “Don Gregory entrusted us with these precious rights, Beth Gabler and Carla Hacken developed an exceptional screenplay and Jim 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. Steven Spielberg is film’s greatest humanist. And we feel blessed as Elwood himself to be collaborating with him, Stacey, and everyone at DreamWorks.”

Snider said: “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.”