Juno

Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich, Mason Novick and Russell Smith

It was a fresh start on every single one,” Lianne Halfon says of working with the “Juno” creative team.

Mandate Pictures had the rights to Diablo Cody’s comic script about a pregnant teen, and since Halfon and her producing partner Russell Smith had been “flirting with them continuously,” the company wanted their frank opinion.

“We had made ‘Ghost World,’ and Mandate thought it was a similar film,” Halfon recalls. “They thought we would protect the ‘Juno’ script.”

Curiously, that may have been the biggest hurdle in getting the film made, or, at least, getting it made right. “The script picked up this buzz in Hollywood,” says Smith. “It went flying around town, and then every director had some interest in it.”

But it was loaded with inherent difficulties. “Certain people responded to one aspect or another,” says Halfon. “They responded to the kid story or the adult story. To find a director who knew both sides was difficult.”

Jason Reitman did.

Casting up-and-comer Ellen Page in the title role adhered to a script that, according to Smith, “practically dictated not using a star. … In our world today, lead actors in movies need to be known.”

Fox Searchlight went for an earlier-than-

anticipated release of the $6.5 million film, betting that Page, not to mention “Juno” itself, would figure big in the awards season. The initial thought had been to release the pic in spring or summer 2008.

“We didn’t finish editing this movie until the day or so before

Telluride,” says Smith. But after good buzz at its first fest outing, the determination was, “Let’s give it a shot,” says the producer.

NUTS & BOLTS

Biggest hurdle: The story’s Minneapolis setting. “But we couldn’t last four minutes outside the scout van,” Smith says of the Minnesota cold. “We were in downtown Minneapolis at night, and no one was on the street.” So they departed to Vancouver, where they could also “cheat” two seasons.

Lessons learned: “We’ve had so many lessons over the years,” says Halfon. “We’ve made every mistake once but not twice. This is one of those films where it came together. The films that we made up to this point informed this film.”

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