Mr. Hunter's opus
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the nominal fee that friends urge him to charge for his script-doctoring services. San Francisco businessman Jonathan N. Zakin, an aspiring screenwriter who Hunter mentored in just such a fashion, was so impressed by Hunter's selflessness that he donated $500,000 to the School of Theater, Film and Television to establish a chair in screenwriting in Hunter's name.
But it's the house-sized heart that Hunter brings into his classroom a tiny, claustrophobic room above a noisy rehearsal hall ? that we students will most remember and miss. With his African grey parrot, Sunny Ray, perched on his shoulder, soiling his papers and pecking his neck, Hunter is a wise, eccentric and friendly guide on a sometimes frightening, often exhilarating, journey of the soul. In discussions peppered with references to Aristotle, William Faulkner, Ecclesiastes, Marcel Proust, Lysistrada, Phil Aulden Robinson, Tennessee Williams, Mel Tolkin and his mother, Esther, Hunter reminds us that we are engaged in an honorable enterprise to show the world we are not "just taking up space."
He has strong opinions on everything from the importance of clearly focused antagonists to the ideal number of brads holding a script's pages together ("Three. You don't want the readers' crumbs to fall through the middle onto their laps."). He hates parentheticals meant to direct how an actor reads ("You're not going to tell Anthony Hopkins how to play a scene."). And he insists that scene headers include nothing more descriptive than "day" or "night."
But the most important lesson young screenwriters need to absorb, Hunter says, is the simple value of "being a decent person."
"If you're a decent person, that will come through in your scripts, your characters and your stories and could help people in your audience become better than they are possibly inclined to be," Hunter says. His emphasis on human values in an industry known for its shark-like ethics has earned him the respect and devotion of hundreds of students over the years, many of whom have gone on to become some of Hollywood's top A-list writers.
"What is the one script you have to write before you die"? Hunter asks at the beginning of his seminars. "Will your life count for something? Can you be as good as yourself"?
It is questions like these that challenge us at the core of our humanity and "set the tone for us to write our most soulful works," says Shelley Anderson M.F.A. '98, a former student of Hunter's and a longtime friend.
"Great teachers, great mentors and great men often come to us once in a lifetime," adds UCLA screenwriting instructor Linda Vorhees, who studied as a student with Hunter. "But in Lew, we have them all rolled up into one."
Kim Kowsky is a freelance writer in Los Angeles. She is pursuing an M.F.A. in screenwriting in the School of Theater, Film and Television and someday hopes to see her name on the Big Screen.