Michael A. Covino and Kyle Marvin sat down with Solzy at the Movies to discuss The Climb before the world shut down in March 2020.
March 9 was the last time I sat down in person for a press junket. Michael A. Covino and Kyle Marvin were sitting down with press while in Chicago to promote The Climb. With SXSW already cancelled at the time, I thought for sure that the junket would almost certainly be cancelled. Alas, it went on as scheduled but theaters across the United States would soon be closing following the declaration of the pandemic. Because of everything, I’ve been holding this interview and another film review until knowing when I can finally run them.
It’s been a long road for The Climb since premiering at Cannes last May. Are you happy that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel?
Michael A. Covino: I am happy. Are you happy, Kyle?
Kyle Marvin: I’m happy.
Michael A. Covino: It’s been a lot of fun but we’re ready to start writing and working on something else in a bit more earnest.
SXSW was going to be one of the final stops before being released in theaters. What message—if any—do you have for the filmmakers that are hurting because of how important it was for them to launch during SXSW?
Michael A. Covino: It’s devastating. We’ve world premiered two films at South by Southwest as producers and know what that experience is like and it’s amazing. It’s one of these special festivals, kind of unlike any other festival in the world. It’s heartbreaking but I think it’ll all work out. I just don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows how or what the timing will be but if you got your film into SXSW, it means it’s a great film—you’ll find a home; it’ll find a premiere. If anything, you get the badge of honor of being one of the only films to go through this experience and then that in itself is like a very unique thing.
When did you first decide to adapt the short film into a feature and what was the writing process like?
Kyle Marvin: When the short got into Sundance, we realized what we had in terms of the opportunity. For us, that’s really when we started cracking the story and how we wanted to go about it because the jumping off point was the short but there’s a lot of places we could take it including a three-hour uncut bike ride up a mountain, which was the least interesting version of that execution.
Michael A. Covino: I was into that version.
Kyle Marvin: Mike was into it. My legs are less into that idea.
Michael A. Covino: We should shoot another movie called The Climb and just pretend like is the same thing and it’s just the same characters but it’s a three hour and we don’t—
Kyle Marvin: Most of it is just me breathing, wheezing heavily.
Michael A. Covino: It’s just an alternative universe version of the same thing.
Kyle Marvin: Start at the same place on the mountain.
I found that opening take rather fascinating.
Kyle Marvin: It was a crazy, crazy experience.
How do you direct something like that when you’re on the bike?
Michael A. Covino: A lot of preparation and a lot of time in between takes. It’s a bit more of a patient process. You just take your time and you plan things out the best you can. You try to adjust one, maybe two things at a time but no more than that.
What was the most challenging part of the production?
Kyle Marvin: Any of the winter stuff, just the demands on all the crew and everyone.
Michael A. Covino: That was tough to schedule and to figure out. I think it was scheduling. We had locations and very far away—scheduling the whole thing, getting all the crew there, and having enough extras and things like that seemed to be the challenge. It shouldn’t be a challenge but it just is sometimes. We had a really tiny production office and I think they carried a very large burden.
I’m a fan of Cheers and George Wendt is a Chicago comedy legend. What was it like to work with him?
Kyle Marvin: He’s the best. He is as great as you would imagine him to be. He’s very, very, fun and warm. The amazing thing with him is that he never gave a bad performance. Every time, he would just be sitting there hanging out and then we’d be like, Alright, it’s going and he’d stand up and just give you the most genuine loving warm read of a moment. For me, I was amazed at his at his level of skill and talent.
Michael A. Covino: Totally.
You two are best friends in real life, correct?
Michael A. Covino: Yeah, we’re pretty good friends.
What was that relationship like on screen especially when your character had a bit of an alcoholic problem?
Michael A. Covino: You mean, what was it like to play?
Michael A. Covino: Friends on screen. Yeah, it’s pretty easy. We’re just acting. I think if anything our friendship in real life made the acting in the film a bit easier because we at least had that familiarity with each other. We knew kind of how to speak to each other in a way that felt organic and so that we didn’t have to figure out our cadence with each other. We just organically had an affinity for one another so that can easily come out on screen. I think the alcohol was just—thank G-d, it wasn’t real alcohol so I got to just pretend.
Kyle Marvin: Fill up your stomach with apple juice.
Yeah, I always wonder about that when I’m watching a film and you see these characters getting wasted.
Kyle Marvin: It’s always really disgusting alternate liquids. I think our Jägermeister was cold decaf iced coffee, which was disgusting.
Michael A. Covino: It was okay. It wasn’t great.
What thoughts do you have on the future of film when it comes the current landscape of theaters and streaming?
Michael A. Covino: I’m hopeful. I think we’re hitting like this amazing time and film that is—there’s a democratization of film that’s occurred right now where anyone can get a camera and go tell a story in a compelling way as long as they have something new to say and a new way to say it. I think the barriers to entry have been sort of pulled down in a really crazy way. There’s more of an appetite for new voices, which I think is really exciting and from different backgrounds so it’s not just sort of the same points. To me, it’s the most exciting time that’s ever occurred for film.
In terms of the landscape of theaters, I think it’s kind of up to filmmakers to decide if that’s a priority for them and to work with companies committed to theatrical releases and lean into that.
Kyle Marvin: I think there’s something to be said about the fact that the theater is the last bastion of watching something without your cell phone on your stomach as you as you text while watching. There’s something nice about being forced to turn your cell phone off and sit in a black room and stare at one screen. I think that’s a sacred experience.
As a filmmaker, was that something you considered when you were selling The Climb last year?
Michael A. Covino: Yeah, we specifically chose Sony Pictures Classics to work with them because of their commitment to release the film theatrically. That was the main reason.