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Pell : ‘SNL’ scribe plays for bigscreen laughs

10 Screenwriters to Watch 2011: Paula Pell

During her 17 seasons as a writer on “Saturday Night Live,” Paula Pell has seen the pattern play out time and time again.

“People will say, ‘I want to write a movie this summer,’ but by the end of the season, you’re just wiped out,” says Pell, who also has recurring roles as Paula Hornberg on “30 Rock” and Ron Swanson’s (Nick Offerman) mother, Tammy, on “Parks and Recreation.” “You start and you quickly say, ‘Oh, I’ll think I’ll do that next summer.’ ”

After experiencing a series of family illnesses and the death of a friend who had just completed work on her retirement home, Pell realized it was time to seize the day or, more precisely, the off-season.

She spent summer 2010 on-set writing additional jokes for “Bridesmaids,” co-written by Annie Mumolo and “SNL’s” Kristin Wiig, who also starred. Then, last summer, she co-produced and did dialogue punch-ups and rewrites on writer-director Judd Apatow’s upcoming Universal feature “This Is Forty.”

This season, Pell has cut back the number of “SNL” episodes she’s working on so she can dedicate more time to an untitled comedy script she’s writing for Universal that Tina Fey will produce via her Little Stranger banner.

The script is inspired by her teenage journals and her relationship with her older sister. Pell grew up theater-obsessed in Joliet, Ill., attending Catholic schools that mounted lavish musical productions with full orchestras. When she was in the middle of high school, her family moved to Orlando, Fla., and after graduating from the U. of Tennessee with a degree in theater, she returned to the city and found work as a performer in its theme parks. She later joined the SAK Comedy Lab, a local improvisational troupe, which brought her to the attention to the producers of “SNL,” who hired her in 1995.

“I’ve got my foot in ‘Saturday Night Live’ and my heart there in a lot of ways, but I’m really pushing myself to do these new projects,” the WME client says. “It’s scary as hell, but it’s fun to have other things to keep my creative brain cooking.”

TEN SCREENWRITERS TO WATCH 2011:
Josh Appelbaum & Andrew Nemec | Jay Baruchel & Jesse Chabot | Justin Britt-Gibson | Neil Cross | Andrew Haigh | Kurt Johnstad | Lauryn Kahn | Paula Pell | Jon Spaihts | Brian Yorkey

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