Lewis R. “Lew” Hunter, a screenwriting professor at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television (TFT) who taught many celebrated Hollywood screenwriters, including Michael Colleary, Alexander Payne and Michael Werb, died Jan. 6 at a care facility in Arizona from COVID-19. He was 87.
Hunter was a professor emeritus at UCLA, where he began teaching in 1979 and helped helm the university’s graduate FTV 434 course, a methodical guide to writing a full-length screenplay in 10 weeks. He was named co-head of the screenwriting program in 1988, a title he held until his retirement in 2000.
“I never had the pleasure or privilege of meeting Lew Hunter, but his presence is deeply felt in the screenwriting program and his signature 434 workshop,” said screenwriting professor George Huang, who currently teaches the class, in a statement. “The idea that students have to finish a full-length feature screenplay in the 10 weeks of a quarter still seems revolutionary even today, but this is how writers learn to write — by actually doing it. Lew literally wrote the book on screenwriting and his legacy of excellence will always be a part of UCLA TFT.”
He was also one of the founders of the American Screenwriters Association and was inducted into the association’s Hall of Fame. In 2015, he was the subject of the documentary “Once in a Lew Moon,” which detailed Hunter’s life in Nebraska, his journey to Hollywood and the impact he had on those he worked with. His last book, 2021’s “Naked Screenwriting,” featured such voices as Francis Ford Coppola, Oliver Stone, Eric Roth, Alexander Payne and Callie Khouri, among others, talking about the art and craft of screenwriting.
The Nebraska native received his bachelor’s degree, and later an honorary degree, from Nebraska Wesleyan University. He earned his master’s degree from Northwestern University and pursued further graduate courses at UCLA.
While in Hollywood, he worked as an executive, producer and writer at the Walt Disney Co., ABC, CBS and NBC, among others. Before his professional stint at UCLA, Hunter was a guest lecturer at universities throughout the U.S. During his academic tenure, he continued to hold workshops and lectures.
As a writer and professor, Hunter regularly referenced the three-act structure and pointed to such films as “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Casablanca,” “Citizen Kane” and “E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial,” among others, as examples. Three funds were created in Hunter’s name to support TFT, its students and faculty; namely the Lew and Pamela Hunter/Jon Zakin endowed chair in screenwriting.
Hunter is survived by his wife Pamela, four children, eight grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren. A celebration of life event will take place Memorial Day Weekend 2023 in Superior, Neb.