Hollywood courted writer-director Morgan J. Freeman after his first feature, "Hurricane Streets," took three top 1997 Sundance prizes. But the Long Beach-raised New York resident, 29, stayed indie for his ensemble story "Desert Blue" (opening Friday), building a repertory company around young talent such as Casey Affleck, Brendan Sexton III, Kate Hudson and Christina Ricci.

NETWORKING: "Brendan and [actress] Isidra Vega met on 'Hurricane Streets,' and she had gone to school with Christina [Ricci] and I met Christina through her. I started writing 'Desert Blue' for Brendan and Isidra and wrote [the part] Ely for Christina. She was involved, read the drafts, even named the character. I'd be playing Sony PlayStation and she'd say, 'How about this?' "

BUSY WORK: "In New York I've watched movie after movie made at a low budget. Gil Holland, who produced both my films, has done five in the last year at anything from $150,000 to $750,000 because there's this pool of talent who love working."

THE DARK SIDE: "On the flip side, there are a lot of people throwing money at things. 'Oh, you can make a movie for a million bucks and if you have one star it's already worth $5 million foreign, so we'll make it.' That's scary, because a lot of trash gets made that way."

RARE GEM: "The movie I'm working on now is a comedy by a woman named Lisa Schrager, 'The Lauren Schwartz Story,' about a woman who failed to find happiness in Manhattan and has to go live with her family in New Jersey. We're in talks with Janeane Garofalo and hope to shoot in the fall."

COMMUNAL LIFE: "One of my largest goals would be to have a real creative community. We're working toward starting a company where we would help each other. I'd like to produce some friends' movies, help people get cast, carve out our own niche rather than be absorbed in another."

TEAM PLAYER: "People always tell me, 'Never say you'll use your people.' Even friends say, 'Never tell them that you collaborate. Tell them that it's you that will make things good--you, you!' I like to say, 'If you hire me, you get this team and we'll kick ass.' "

MOTIVATION: "When I watch 'Rushmore' I get inspired. I know I'm being inspired when I get jealous. Also 'Election.' Those two movies are why I want to do 'The Lauren Schwartz Story'--same humor, laughing at failed dreams."

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