Producers Michael Angelo Covino and Kyle Marvin are longtime friends and indie producers behind award-winning films such as Kicks and Hunter Gatherer. Now, with their new comedy feature, The Climb — released theatrically and VOD on November 13 — they are on the verge of finding a different kind of success as multi-hyphenates.
Covino makes his feature directorial debut from a script the duo co-wrote as first-time film writers. Not only that, both emerge as actors in their own right by starring as The Climb’s two leads, playing best friends named, intentionally, Mike and Kyle.
The duo sat down with Casting Networks® via Zoom and spoke about how The Climb was adapted from an eight-minute short they made in 2018 as a showcase for financiers.
“We made the short to be a perfect concept for something bigger,” explained Covino. “The idea was to shoot something that would give confidence (for financiers) in both my ability to direct, our ability to write and to be on camera, and getting others comfortable with the idea that the two of us could carry a film.”
The short — whose premise also became the opening vignette of the feature film — is a single-take scene involving a bike ride where Mike drops a bombshell by confessing that he’s slept with Kyle’s fiancée. Logistically, Covino said the scene was a “nightmare and very complicated and challenging to shoot,” but from an acting standpoint, it couldn’t have been more ideal.
“Physicality in a scene is the best thing I could ever ask for (as an actor),” said Covino. “There is a naturalness that comes out in a performance when you’re preoccupied with doing something — like having to ride a bike up a hill.”
“There is something about the physical pressure of the action in a scene that strips away your thoughts,” added Marvin. “It forces you to be in the moment. Because we never cut the camera [in that bike scene], both of us had to adjust to what was happening around us. We knew there would be no stopping until we reached the end of that scene.”
When they moved forward on expanding the short, the duo rehearsed and workshopped the script at the Acting Center in Sherman Oaks, California. They’d bring different people in to play the various supporting roles, and rewrote the material as they worked through it. When the feature film was officially a go, Jessica Kelly and Rebecca Dealy were hired to cast the film out of New York.
Told in self-contained vignettes that leap chronologically over a decade, The Climb gives the audience a glimpse into a co-dependent bromance where neither friend can truly quit the other. Each vignette takes place in settings ripe for conflict — a Thanksgiving dinner, a Christmas gathering, a bachelor party, etc. — where the worst and the best of this friendship airs out.
The film was accepted into Cannes’ Un Certain Regard in 2019, where Covino won the Jury Coup de Coeur prize for directing. Sony Pictures Classics acquired the film for distribution, and it continued to play at festivals throughout the year and into 2020 including Telluride, Toronto, and Sundance, among others. It quickly became a critics’ darling and a crowd favorite.
Throughout its festival run, The Climb cemented what the duo set out to do — show others that they were capable artists both in the front and behind the camera. On that strength, they signed with a Hollywood agency for representation across the board.
Then the pandemic hit, forcing The Climb’s original March theatrical release date to be rescheduled to July, and then once more to November. However, these date changes haven’t dampened any career prospects for Covino and Marvin. The industry shutdown caused by the pandemic created a downtime the duo took advantage of, writing Covino’s follow-up directing feature, and two television shows they are developing.
“There’s a lot that we’ve been putting together — projects we want to make, or projects that we want to be in — so that when filming becomes more of a realistic activity, we’ll be ready to go,” said Marvin. “The success of The Climb meant there are people [in the industry] reaching out to us. We’re a bit blessed in that sense.”
One of the more unexpected blessings that emerged was that their new agents sent Covino on a meeting with casting director Francine Maisler.
“We hit it off, and she asked me if I could play a villain,” Covino recalled. “I said, absolutely!”
The next thing he knew, Covino was auditioning for a part in Paul Greengrass’ Western movie News of the World, which Tom Hanks was headlining. Covino had about three or four callbacks over a month before officially landing the role.
News of the World is releasing on Christmas Day, and Covino can currently be seen in the film’s trailer in a tense moment with Hanks’s character as the former tries to purchase a young girl in the latter’s care.
“I was like a kid in a candy store,” said Covino of his time on the set. “I would look at the call sheet for the next day, and if I wouldn’t be on there, I would show up anyways, sit off to the side, and watch. I wanted to be there and observe. Watching Paul Greengrass direct was really beautiful and amazingly reassuring. It was so different from how I have ever approached directing, but also very liberating.”
While there was much to absorb from Hanks on the acting side, on those non-performance days, Covino became a fly on the wall, observing Greengrass making directing choices with things like camera positioning, lighting configurations, and blocking.
“I would have paid money to watch him,” Covino confessed. “You can go to film school and learn how to be a filmmaker, but it could never teach you how Paul Greengrass approaches shooting a Western.”
Covino looks back at the experience as a “huge opportunity” which no doubt he’ll apply to his own directing projects with Marvin at some point. “It was very eye-opening to see how a big-budget film was made; I learned a lot.”
Adds Marvin: “Our whole mentality is that we are the ones who are going to make our destiny because our future careers are based on our own blood, sweat, and tears. It’s about putting in the hard work. That’s the main component of our success.”