LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood's major film and television studios said on Friday they would begin formal contract talks with directors as soon as this weekend, marking a key development in the ongoing screenwriters strike.
In a statement, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said the talks are scheduled to begin on Saturday, January 12, and that neither the directors or producers would comment to news organizations during negotiations.
Industry watchers believe that if the directors can reach a deal separate from the writers, it will lead writers and producers to eventually return to the bargaining table.
Negotiations between the two groups broke off in early December.
Film and television writers, who are represented by the Writers Guild of America, launched their strike against major AMPTP studios on November 5 in a contract dispute hinging on how writers should be paid for work distributed on the Internet.
The walkout by 10,500 film and TV writers has thrown the TV industry into disarray, derailed movie productions and caused several awards shows to be canceled or significantly changed in format.
Hollywood is anxiously waiting to see whether February's Oscars, the world's top film honors, will also be canceled because WGA writers cannot work on the televised ceremony and high-profile actors may decide not to cross WGA picket lines.
The Directors Guild of America, which has about 13,000 members, sees its contract with the AMPTP member companies expire in June.
For weeks the DGA and AMPTP have been holding informal talks to establish a framework for contract negotiations that would cover much of the same ground as the WGA talks, including fees for work distributed on the Internet.
As a result, some industry watchers believe any deal between the DGA and AMPTP could serve as a template for a settlement with the writers. Still others think a separate agreement between the DGA and AMPTP could undermine the writers' bargaining position.
Reporting by Bob Tourtellotte; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Eric Walsh