One of the most refreshing aspects of entering the winter movie months (as well as festival season) is the change in storytelling. All of a sudden, the films are more meaningful. They’re more personal. They come from a different place than the “big box office franchise fair” audiences are treated to the rest of the year. This week, The Climb hits theaters, and we here at Geek Girl Authority have all the details.
The Climb follows two friends, Mike and Kyle (Michael Angelo Covino and Kyle Marvin) through the ups and downs of life, spanning a number of years. There are marriages, divorces and grief as these men go through the struggle that is adulthood. Friends grow up, they may even grow apart, but something always holds them together. Gayle Rankin, George Wendt and Talia Balsam co-star in the movie. Covino directs the film from the script he cowrote with Marvin.
The Climb is one of those indie film Cinderella stories of which many filmmakers can only dream. The micro-budgeted feature hit fast and hard at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. It quickly gained a reputation and secured distribution for a March 2020 release. We all know what happened then. The coming-of-age drama found itself stuck in a lengthy, COVID induced limbo, but it’s finally moving back towards release.
The film marks the feature length debut for both Marvin and Covino as writers, as well as Covino’s as a director. The Climb somehow sidesteps the problems which can sometimes materialize in these early efforts. Luckily, what shines through in this movie is its heart. A story like this doesn’t come from a studio questing for intellectual property or the newest hot franchise. The story playing out on-screen is personal for these two men and their love of cinema shines though.
Geek Girl Authority was given the opportunity to sit down with the filmmakers (pre-COVID) to talk about The Climb. A huge topic of conversation was their passion for film and storytelling.
Kyle Marvin: For me, I always loved consuming cinema. Some of my favorite moments is watching great movies and being completely immersed in a great world, or a different sense of comedy. It’s always been something I’ve loved.
Michael Angelo Covino: It fulfills the imagination in a way that very few things do … you can create anything out of your imagination. Being a director allows you to carry that vision out.
Kimberly Pierce: What were you fans of growing up?
KM: As a kid we consumed all the pop culture. I remember loving The Mask, the Austin Powers series. Those were the things that I really enjoyed. I would watch Monty Python and Fawlty Towers on our local PBS station. It would capture your imagination.
KP: Who are you fans of right now?
MAC: People are discovering a lot of the cool filmmakers that we’re aware of. We made two fun movies, one was called Kicks with this filmmaker Justin Tipping who is fantastic. Another is called Hunter Gatherer with this filmmaker Josh Locy. I can’t wait for their next movies, because they’re going to do truly special things.
KM: I love Portrait of a Lady on Fire. I thought that was a beautiful film. That was a really big film. I saw it at Cannes and was blown away.
KP: What advice would you give to young people looking to get involved in film and in storytelling?
MAC: Identify what movies you want to watch over and over again and see what it is about that which inspires you. Don’t wait. Don’t write one thing and think it’s your thing. Keep writing. Watch a ton of other short films.
KM: Consume the thing that you’re participating in, and keep making it.
MAC: So you can be inspired, but so you know what not to do. Most people don’t realize that these festival programmers are watching hundreds of the same film every year. They know what’s in the zeitgeist. If you’re going to do this, subvert it.
KP: Can you talk about the early script writing and production process?
MAC: We fleshed out the structure [of the script] before putting any words on the page … it moved quicker than usual. We had a script in three months [because] we were writing the script knowing we were going to make it that year.
KM: We had the short (The Climb) which went to Sundance that year and while at Sundance we came with a pitch which was what we ended up shooting. Once we got the finance, we wrote it and went into production rapidly.
KP: What was the development and filming process like?
MAC: It was fun. We weren’t forcing it. We knew we had this short that people would see and it was a question of could we find something we were as excited about that we would spend the next year and a half of our lives working on. It felt organic, like the right fit.
KM: We loved the characters and we loved the tone and the relationship. The challenge was, what could we do with these characters and this relationship. How far could we push them? Where could we go with this story?
Covino jumps into the direction with both feet and achieves a very naturalistic, free-flowing feel. Whether it’s in the ease of the opening scene as Kyle and Mike bicycle down a mountain road, or even the strikingly beautiful ski ballet into the third act, the young director resists the urge to be too hands on. He doesn’t imprint his vision through flashy camera work or frenetic editing. He takes a step back and trusts his cast and crew to get it done in the shot. This takes tremendous strength as a filmmaker. The Climb comes to life from this pure place of cinema. There are no frills. No flash. This is two men, a camera and their characters.
Covino spoke about the production process,
MAC: It was a lot of rehearsal with the camera operator. Spending a ton of time getting the timing down of everything and working the choreography.
KP: How did you find acting and directing at the same time?
MAC: I really enjoyed it. We were very patient with the way we shot. We weren’t marching through days as you typically do. This was a bit different. I would get to step back, watch playback, make adjustments and then go again twenty minutes later.
KP: How long was your shoot?
MAC: 32 days total. Six weeks originally and then we had to wait for winter.
KP: As fans of cinema, what was it like to bring your film to these festivals with Cannes and Sundance really being the pinnacle of filmmaking?
MAC: We’ve had a lot of experience making movies that didn’t get into Sundance. We were ready for that. We were prepared to not get in. It was one of those things that happens and you go, “Oh my god, this is happening.” We all as filmmakers have dreams and aspirations to present your film globally … I’m still in shock. It’s been an ongoing, wonderful experience.
Interestingly, perspective kicks in, making one of The Climb’s biggest strengths also its biggest struggle. The narrative is so invested in the construction of the main relationship between Mike and Kyle that the other characters do struggle under the weight of their friendship. Anyone who gets in the way of these two is bound to struggle. This is particularly relevant when examining Marissa, Kyle’s long-suffering partner (Gayle Rankin). While Rankin is great in the part, the character is mired in a disingenuous, shrewish exterior when she’s just trying to make her marriage work.
Covino took the time to give us some insight on how they approached Marissa and shines a light on why the movie plays like it does. And ultimately, his point makes a lot of sense from a critical standpoint.
MAC: She sort of had to play a role as an antagonist for the movie to work because it is this love story of this friendship between these two guys. From day one, our goal was to view her with dimensions where if we shifted the lens to view things through her perspective I (Mike) would be the villain as this asshole friend who’s coming in to destroy this relationship. We were trying to not be bashful. She’s just demanding of him. We got really lucky with Gayle Rankin.
All in all, after riding really high through the 2019 festival season, The Climb spent most 2020 in a painful COVID delay, mere weeks before it was slated to open. However, this little film that could is finally getting its due. The Climb is very much a labor of love and crafts a thoughtful examination of not only friendship, but life and love. Indie movie fans, awards season followers and cinephiles alike should add this one to their lists.
The Climb opens in theaters Friday November 13th.
This article was originally published on 11/13/20