I shook their hands. I remember a lot of what Michael Angelo Covino and Kyle Marvin, the on- and off-screen duo responsible for the new film “The Climb,” said. But mostly, I remember that in the last in-person interview I conducted before COVID-19 upended the entire apparatus of film distribution and promotion, I shook the hands of the interview subjects before enjoying a half-hour chat on how they constructed one of the year’s most inspired, intentional comedic romps.
As we gathered around a conference room table in March 2020, the road to release for “The Climb” had already been a long one. Their aesthetically rigorous and wryly observed buddy comedy debuted at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival ten months prior. From there, the film went on to score high-profile berths at Telluride, Toronto, Sundance, and SXSW. The pandemic forced “The Climb” off its original release date of March 20 and delayed it twice more. The film will finally open in select theaters on November 13, a full sixteen months after its premiere on the Croisette.
It’s a pity that, at least upon its initial release, “The Climb” will not be able to feed as mightily on the energy of a theatrical audience. The film deserves the big screen experience, and not just to appreciate Covino and Marvin’s clever humor as they chart the ups and downs of two longtime friends over the course of many caustic years. The ease of their natural humor is well complemented by thoughtfully choreographed cinematography that speeds lightyears ahead of their compatriots in the genre. Given that so many distributors have chosen to dump comedies on streaming services (a trend only exacerbated by the pandemic), it’s a shame that we will never really know if Sony Pictures Classics’ bet on Covino and Marvin’s clever wit and visual aptitude would have paid off. Nonetheless, the film’s delight and appeal will undoubtedly come through, no matter the screen size.
In my extensive conversation with the filmmakers, we covered how “The Climb” evolved from a conceptual short to a fully-realized feature. Covino and Marvin not only broke down the film’s planning and production process but also how global audiences have responded – and where the dynamic duo will ride next.
“The Climb” mixes the simplicity of people just talking through the challenges in their relationships with a notably rigorous aesthetic. At the highest level of this, how are you balancing making something that’s really choreographed but never loses its authenticity?
Kyle Marvin: I mean, that was the balance we were always talking about throughout the process. How do we balance the authenticity or the characters’ journeys feeling complete and honest, and how big we can go with the comedy? And I think the line for us was always, do we as the performers and the characters feel like it’s honest? And, if it is, we can take the leeway to fall through a table there.
Michael Angelo Covino: To the point of choreography, I think it was one of the things that excited us most about approaching the film in this way, because oftentimes, films that we’ve seen that deal with these subject matters are like two friends; they’re these slice of life-y, indie comedies. They’re often shot in a particular way, and that often lends itself to organic performance at the moment that can then be edited into the film. You can choose, it’s a loose script, and there’s a very comfortable, real nature to it, which is something that we love. I think what we set out to do with this one was really [to] try to keep that intact and make it a bit more elaborate and absurdist in moments and let the visuals and the camera partake in the storytelling in a very hands-on way.
To your point about how the indie comedy looks right now, there’s this belief that if it’s handheld, choppy or improvisational, that’s what makes it real life. Your film shows that that’s not necessarily true. It’s not the only way to get at that same kind of emotion.
Kyle Marvin: Yeah, there certainly was the early Duplass stuff I felt like was very raw and emotional and human. And people were already dealing with things in a sincere way. And I think that’s hopefully true with us, too. I think the one thing we were aware of in comedy today is this desire to sort of fit as many jokes in as possible in 90 minutes, and, for us, we certainly were more concerned about people caring about the character journey and laughing along the way … but not feeling obligated to make people laugh every x number of seconds.
The unpredictability was fascinating. The first scene you’re watching, I was like, “Oh, that’s neat that they’re doing this all in one take,” but it’s not a one-scene joke and continues like this. You started with the concept and the short of the two guys riding up the hill. Whenever you were fleshing out “The Climb” and coming up with the idea to expand it to a feature, when did you know you would keep the long takes?
Kyle Marvin: I know we talked a lot about that in the early stage of developing the idea for the feature. Do we want to do the whole thing in one continuous take by just riding bikes uphill for an hour and a half?
Michael Angelo Covino: I think the interesting thing about approaching the entire movie in this aesthetic style was that there’s this immediacy that’s created when you don’t cut the camera. You know you’re watching something in real-time unfold. Our mind says maybe I won’t blink or look away, or I’ll stay engaged as long as it stays engaging. And so the challenge for us was really like, how do we live in that? How do we take these little snapshots in time and live with the characters for eight minutes, and then jump forward ahead and tell the entire story in a more elliptical fashion? That allows us to live in these in these immediate moments, and then not have to fill in all the blanks in between.