Mr. Hunter's opus
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It comes from his network experience and his background in dealing with creative people in a formal structure."
Like every screenwriting professor at UCLA, Hunter has a loyal coterie of groupies. What distinguishes Hunter's groupies from others is that they can cite passages from his book, Lew Hunter's Screenwriting 434 (now in its 10th printing), as if it were the Bible. Hunter, who frequently refers students to his book and liberally quotes himself, doesn't discourage the comparison.
"I feel like Saint Paul, treading the Mediterranean, spreading the gospel of screenwriting," he says. The comment would sound self-important from almost anyone else. But from Hunter, whose legendary generosity surprises even his closest friends, the remark somehow manages to sound humble. "I have always been astounded at his seemingly unflagging energy in his commitment to his students," says Robert Rosen, dean of the TFT. Hunter's spirit is perhaps best encapsulated in Writer's Block, a monthly social gathering of aspiring screenwriters that Hunter and his wife have hosted at their Burbank home for nearly 20 years. Only the civic unrest curfew following the Rodney King verdict could keep the party's staunchest devotees from arriving on the Hunters' doorstep.
Although some cynics sniff that the party devolved in recent years to include increasing numbers of has-beens, misfits and posers, Writer's Block launched at least three marriages, despite its reputation for stale popcorn and industrial-sized bags of chips.
The Hunters hosted their last party in February after putting their house up for sale. The following month, more than 350 students, alumni and friends gathered at the James Bridges Theater to pay tribute to the Hunters for hosting what one speaker called, perhaps a tad hyperbolically, "the most successful social group for writers in the history of the world."
Hunter, who wore a kilt to the tribute in honor of his Scottish roots, sat with an arm around his wife and two granddaughters on his lap as speaker after speaker thanked him for his friendship, wisdom and generosity.
"In the loneliest profession, he gave us all a home," says former student David Tichter, a writer who helped Hunter organize the first Writer's Block in 1979. "He inspired and encouraged us with an almost freakish, religious fervor," adds screenwriter Michael Werb, a Hunter alum who cowrote the blockbuster Face/Off and The Mask.
The stories of Hunter's generosity are as colorful as scenes from any of his own 50 or so screenplays. He promised his seven grandchildren he would pay for their college tuition. He spent part of a trip to Croatia picking cigarette butts out of the cobblestone streets of an 11th-century village. He put his home phone number in his best-selling book. He cheerfully accepts phone calls well past midnight from anxious young writers needing words of encouragement. He regularly has out-of-town students to his home for Thanksgiving dinner, and he once organized a baby shower for a student who was pregnant with triplets.
When aspiring screenwriters not enrolled in the program call Hunter for advice, he inevitably meets with them, often forgetting to collect even