In a move underlining justhow tough it is to keep big budget Hollywood movies in the UK, theproducers of Paramount's superhero thriller Watchmen are on the verge of taking the film away fromPinewood Studios.

The $120m sci-fi epic isalready in pre-production at Pinewood, but last week, several crew members -some of whom thought they had 18 month contracts - were put on a week'snotice.

"The issue isbudget," producer Lloyd Levin told on Friday. Levin said that "the expense of shootingin the UK with the exchange rate and the loss of certain rebates" hadprompted Paramount to look at alternative "shooting scenarios."

Though a final decision is yet to be taken, it wouldappear that there is very little chance now the film can be kept in the UK.

"The feeling is thatthere might be a less expensive way to do it outside the UK given theenvironment right now," Levin said. Shooting is due to begin later in thesummer.

Levin said that he was optimistic the film could still becompleted in time for its mooted summer 2006 release. He "ruled out"rumours that there were plans to decamp to Eastern Europe.

The uncertainty surroundingthe state of the production also comes amid changes in the senior management atParamount. New studio chief Brad Grey officially started his post at the studioon March 1 and speculation has reportedly surrounded the film since then.

The news is bound to causedismay at Pinewood Shepperton PLC, where shares fell 13% last month largelybecause of the uncertainty surrounding UK studio bookings. The one big budgetproject that is definitely confirmed at the studios is MichaelCaton-Jones's Basic Instinctsequel.

Levin, who has worked onseveral other big-budget films made at Pinewood (including Lara Croft) expressed his disappointment at the prospect ofmoving elsewhere. However, he said that all the key creative personnel,including director Paul Greengrass, remain attached. "We'll regroupand get back on our feet," he said. "It's the same team.We're just taking the time to look at different budget scenarios."