The UK is in danger of losing its status as a topco-production partner for international film-makers if the government pressesahead with its new tax proposals, foreign producers argued at a heated filmseminar this week.

The Co-production Express,presented by the UK MEDIA Desk, the UK Film Council (UKFC), and the Times bfi London Film Festival, was clearly intended to fosterfuture UK co-productions with the rest of Europe, yet foreign producers say theproposed new tax regime - currently still up in the air -- could make thatnearly impossible.

When the discussion turnedto the proposed higher level of UK spend to get a meaningful amount of taxbreaks, Belgian producer Sebastien Delloye of Entre Chien et Loup noted that such a system would be "nonsense unlessyou're doing a British film." "We will never come back," he snapped, "It meanshalf the production companies working in the UK who rely on co-productions will go away. It's veryfrightening." One producer in the audience went so far as to call for "riotingin the streets" to try to influence the new lawmaking.

JJ Lousberg,the European and International Production Executive at the UKFC tried to calmnerves by saying that "it's important not to get carried away at this moment"before the new laws are set.

UKFC head John Woodward after the event thatthe body was working to ensure that co-productions, including minorityco-productions, would be protected under the new DCMS plans. "We've proposed tothe government that minority co-productions with a low spend in the UK are eligible for a higher level of tax relief,"Woodward clarified. "Minority co-productions do have a value and they areimportant."

Lousberg added, "Everyone in the industry agrees that withoutco-productions the government won't be able to reach its goals." He sees thefuture being more about natural creative collaborations, rather than workingwith a country simply for its financing deals.

In his opening remarks, Woodwardhad noted that the government was clearly unhappy that under the currentsystem, a co-production could spend just 12-14% of its budget in the UK but walk away with a 40% tax break. "That particulargravy train is over," he said. The Treasury's new moves are also trying to doaway with "tax tourism," in which international producers look to the UK not for creative reasons but only to take advantageof financial incentives. Yet he reiterated the importance of co-productions inthe future: "The industry needs to brush up our skills in creating more meaningfulcollaborations," he said.

The seminar presented aseries of case-studies of international productions representing a variety ofstructures and motivations: for example, five-country production Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas) brought together32 financiers for its Euros 18m budget, and producer Philip Boeffardof France's Nord-Ouest said that one industrystrength that the WWI tale had was that it was "very European, so the localcountries felt a duty to be involved." The UK's sale-and-leaseback scheme - about to be abolished- also proved useful.

One of the event's mostcandid speakers was Neil Peplow from London-based TheWorks Media Group, who joked that film production had become so complicatedthat he was considering a career as a plumber instead.

Peplow's co-production being presented was The Best Man, a romantic comedystructured as a UK/Hungary/Germany co-production. The film, set in London, was shot in Hungary to take advantage of Hungary's new tax law. But Peplow horrifiedfellow producers in the audience when he revealed that of the film's £5.8million budget, a whopping £1.6m was spent on legal and financing fees. Dealingwith about 12 lawyers was "a nightmare," he said, and he said that if he had todo it all over again, he might consider doing a smaller-budget UK only production.

Peplow wasn't only talking about the headaches of workingoutside borders, he also was quick to praise the "fantastic"mostly Hungarian crew the production employed. IldikoKemeny of The Hungarian Connection noted that it isabout 25% cheaper to shoot in Hungary than in the UK.

In a more positive point,Tomas Eskilsson from Sweden's Film I Vast, said thatco-productions could become a way for UK filmmakers to take advantages of the rest of Europe's financial incentives (particularly if UK incentives become less attractive.)

"The film industry future in Europe is linked to more and not fewer co-productions," Eskilssonsaid. "We should prepare ourselves for 30-40 years from now, when the map willno look the same as it does now. It's important for public fundersto open doors between countries. We need public bodies to be extremelyflexible."