George Huang’s Swimming With Sharks (1995) was an audacious debut — an indie excoriation of the studio system in which a movie exec’s young assistant (played by Frank Whaley) turns the tables, and the thumbscrews, on his sadistic boss (Kevin Spacey). So how is it that the 29-year-old’s second film, the straight-to-tape Trojan War, owes much more to John Hughes than John Huston?

”After Sharks, I needed to pay the bills,” says Huang, who found himself pigeonholed as a hostage-comedy auteur — Interscope chose him to direct Scream writer Kevin Williamson’s high school revenge fantasy Killing Mrs. Tingle. When Interscope put Tingle on hold, Miramax bought the script and made Williamson director. But Huang was unwilling to let his preparation go to waste. He’d already spent a year back at his alma mater, Rolling Hills High School in Palos Verdes, Calif., so he signed on to Trojan War, starring Party of Five’s Jennifer Love Hewitt and Will Friedle (Boy Meets World) as a teen searching for true love and trusty prophylactics.

Although frustrated by the process (Warner Bros. honchos insisted that a key scene didn’t need to be funny,” Huang says) and embarrassed by the sophomoric product (”It was pandering to high school intelligence”), Huang nonetheless hopes to keep paddling amid the predators. ”I’d like to stick with the studio system, but after this,” he concedes, ”I think I’m going to be sent to movie jail for a while…. I have to start over.” Which might be the director’s good fortune, since he also claims, ”After Trojan War, I have enough material to complete the Sharks trilogy.”