Friends Forever, Filmmakers for Now
“The Climb” is a movie about a friendship that stands the test of time through some pretty gnarly events.
Oh how strangely can life imitate art.
I first spoke to the film’s co-writers and stars, best friends Michael Angelo Covino (who also directed) and Kyle Marvin, in person back in March at a Manhattan hotel. “The Climb” was slated to be released later that month, but the coronavirus scuttled those plans.
While the movie, which takes place over several years, is more about friends who weather disasters frequently of their own making, it is interesting to watch now and wonder how the characters would have dealt with the additional obstacle of a pandemic.
After playing the Cannes, Toronto, Telluride and Sundance festivals before the pandemic, and enduring an eight-month postponement because of it, “The Climb,” has opened in theaters. I spoke with the two again this month, via Zoom, about what it took for these buddies, both 35, to make a movie together and how their friendship and work has fared of late. They were on the call in the same room together, so that may give a hint.
Here are edited excerpts from both of those conversations.
How did you first get into the business?
MICHAEL ANGELO COVINO I graduated from Occidental College in Los Angeles, then tried to find work in the film industry for a long time and struggled with that. I started making my own shorts, but eventually stumbled my way into the advertising industry, producing and directing commercials. And that’s how I met this guy.
KYLE MARVIN I grew up outside Portland, Ore., and have always been interested in the arts. I got married, had kids and, luckily at the time, got into advertising. And then I quickly burned out on the glory of advertising, but made commercials and eventually started making films with Mike.
What were you making together at first?
COVINO We would shoot sketches.
MARVIN When we were making commercials and had access to a camera, we would say, “OK, we’ve got six hours and a setup. Let’s shoot a sketch.”
How did you transition into films?
COVINO We produced a few movies in the years leading up to making our own. With our commercial company, we would put aside money. That leftover money we would put into making movies with other filmmakers. It really got us familiar with how to make a feature film on a smaller budget. We produced a movie called “Hunter Gatherer” and one called “Kicks,” “Keep in Touch” and “Babysitter.” They played at film festivals like South by Southwest and Tribeca. That gave us more contacts in the film industry, meeting distributors and people who finance films. And it helped us understand the lay of the land more.
Your movie begins with the revelation that one character has been sleeping with the other’s fiancée. What’s the biggest challenge the two of you have faced in real life over your 10 years of friendship?
MARVIN Poverty. We had to ask each other, “Are you committed to this crazy thing called independent cinema, which is not an easy thing to sustain your life?”
COVINO For me, it was easier because it’s like, I can live off peanut butter, but Kyle has kids.
Did you ever date the same woman?
COVINO Not yet. We’ll see. His wife is pretty cool. [Laughs]
MARVIN I’ve been married since we’ve known each other, so the opportunity has not presented itself.
COVINO The impetus for that in the script was that I had a friend and an ex-girlfriend who ended up together. We had long since broken up, but it stuck with me as this thing that I was upset about but didn’t have any right to be. And I had to process that.
The betrayal in the film is the kind of thing that many friendships wouldn’t survive. How did you get to that extreme place in the story?
MARVIN I think we were really fascinated by adult friendships and the pressures that come to bear on those, particularly those that we formed at a young age and are associated with our identity in a foundational way. So we wanted to say, how far do those get tested? And I think in many ways they get tested all the time.
Your characters cycle together in the movie and, in March, you had been doing a press tour where you biked in each of the cities you were in, correct?
MARVIN Yes, it was surreal, we’d ride bikes and we’d get to a new city and the Covid measures would have incrementally increased everywhere we went.
COVINO And it was like more hand sanitizer in every newsroom we went into.
And you’ve been in regular contact since the pandemic began?
COVINO Yeah, I got Covid early on and had antibodies. I felt more comfortable so I started going to L.A. to see Kyle and we would write out there. And then if I had to be here in New York, he would come out for a large chunk of time to write together. We would also write remotely. But when we’re trying to crack a story or come up with the meat of how we’re going to write a script, I think it’s really helpful for us to be in person because you can just talk it through.
MARVIN There’s an alchemy to human interaction. I think that’s hard to replicate with a screen-to-screen sort of thing.
And you’re in New York together working on something now?
COVINO We’re writing a couple of films right now. We just finished one and now we’re finishing another. And then we have two shows. We wrote one pilot, and now we’ve got to write the next one. And then we’re never writing again for the next three years. [Laughs]
Has the pandemic impacted the kinds of scripts you’re writing?
MARVIN The things we’re always interested in are a little more universal, so we have less desire to, say, write a dystopian movie. In that way, we’re more like, even if you’re wearing masks at Christmas dinner, it’s still going to be really awkward because that uncle, you know what I mean?