Some observers expect the talks to be a formality before the guild asks its members for a strike authorization vote before the awards season early next year.
"I'm not terribly optimistic," said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment lawyer who has represented the Writer's Guild of America and is not part of the current talks. "The union is probably somewhat wary of moving in the direction of a strike, but I think that's what they're going to do."
Thursday's face-to-face meeting will include SAG's chief negotiator, Doug Allen, and J. Nicholas Counter III, lead bargainer for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
It comes after weeks of shuttle diplomacy by federal mediator Juan Carlos Gonzalez, who has met with each side separately.
Both sides declined to comment ahead of the meeting.
In October, the movie producers group, known as AMPTP, agreed to meet with Gonzalez and said it was willing to "bargain reasonably." But the studio group said it was untenable for SAG to demand a better deal than what writers, directors and another actors union accepted earlier in the year, especially now that the economy has worsened.
SAG's national board, for its part, has authorized its negotiating committee to call for strike authorization vote if mediation fails. The vote would take more than a month and requires more than 75 percent approval to pass.
SAG, representing about 120,000 actors, is seeking union coverage for all Internet-only productions regardless of budget and residual payments for Internet productions replayed online, as well as continued actor protections during work stoppages.
Recalling that the writers' 100-day strike reduced the 2008 Golden Globes in January to a starless news conference as actors stayed away in solidarity, the approach of next year's awards season is injecting a mild sense of urgency into the talks.
Scott Witlin, an entertainment lawyer who has represented television networks in the past, said an awards show boycott or a strike could divide the union. In September elections, an upstart group broke the majority of a combative leadership faction known as Membership First.
"I think that they would be in very dangerous territory if they tried to take on the Golden Globes," Witlin said. "Aside from that they would run a big risk of ripping their union further apart."