Contract talks between Hollywood writers and their studio employers got off to a testy start last month: Writers Guild of America (WGA) reps dismissed a proposal by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (Amptp) for a study of the residuals paid in new media markets - perhaps the key issue to be covered in the negotiations - and the Amptp team shot back that the rejection was "short-sighted and self-destructive".

Talks were suspended after two days and are not expected to resume until sometime next month.

The initial encounter does not bode well for what is likely to be a difficult year of Hollywood labour negotiations. The writers' deal with the Amptp expires on October 31. But if no new agreement is reached by then, the WGA could ask its members to keep working past that date so that talks can be co-ordinated with negotiations involving the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Directors Guild of America, whose contracts with the studios both expire next June.

With all three unions negotiating with producers in the same time frame, one guild might be able to reach an agreement that could be used as a precedent by the other two. Or all three could unify to threaten strike action in the summer of 2008.