It’s the ultimate indie filmmaker fantasy: You raise modest funding for your buddy comedy based on your popular short film and submit it to Cannes. Festival director Thierry Fremaux adores your feature debut so much that, when it premieres in Un Certain Regard, he introduces it himself. Distributors and media fawn over your movie, which wins the Cannes Coup de Coeur award. You quickly seal a deal with a top agency (UTA) and one of the few remaining theatrical distributors (Sony Pictures Classics).
That actually happened to Michael Angelo Covino and Kyle Marvin — way back in May 2019. The duo co-wrote and co-starred in “The Climb,” a micro-budget comedy that Covino also directed. The movie starts out with the two chums, Mike (Covino) and Kyle (Marvin), peddling hard at the top of a steep mountain pass during one of their frequent bike rides. Kyle announces that he’s getting married to his fiancé. And Mike, making sure that he is well ahead of his friend, announces, “I slept with her.”
“What do you mean, slept?” asks Kyle.
“Like, sexually slept,” Mike says.
“I’m going to kill you,” says Kyle, trying to catch up with him.
That’s how the movie begins, as the two friends fall apart and eventually come back together again.
Now, after a year-and-a-half in release date limbo, added by a robust trip around the festival circuit, “The Climb” is finally hitting theaters. The release date moved from May to June to July to October to November. “We stopped counting after three,” Marvin told IndieWire. “Then again, at times they didn’t even bother to tell us it changed. They kept it as is, and then jumped ahead.”
I first met the duo at Cannes in 2019, where they were all smiles. “We were in a bit of shock that we were even there,” said Covino on the phone recently from New York. “And we are still processing. It was such a fast transition. Will this movie ever see the light of day? Where will it premiere? What will happen to it? We make a movie we think is good. Sometimes a movie is good, but it doesn’t have the experience where it goes through a film festival like that and gets exalted, in a way. We understood things would change. We didn’t know how and in what manner.”
At their first meeting with SPC, co-president Tom Bernard asked them who they thought their audience was. “How the hell should I know?” Covino said to him. “You’re the distributor. That’s your job. People can relate to these characters. An older audience will respond to this film, based on the response we’re getting on the ground.” SPC understood the power of putting the engaging costars on the road with the movie. That was the original plan. “No one knows who we are,” said Covino. “They took a chance.”
The movie is hilarious, that’s why it was no surprise that, as soon as Covino and Marvin flew back to America, they signed with a top agency. “Coming off the film, it was clear we were going to need to be represented by someone somewhere, primarily for our acting,” said Covino. “There was a lot of interest from the agencies to sign us across the board as writers and directors.”
UTA got the team started on their L.A. meet-and-greets. Hollywood is always in the market for funny people who can create comedy. Their new careers were launched on the assumption that their first movie would hit big. Except that “The Climb” kept not opening.
After Cannes, Topic Studios, which developed, financed, and produced the film after acquiring the original short at Sundance 2018, forged a two-year, first-look deal to develop and produce feature films for Covino and Marvin’s Watch This Ready production shingle. “They’ll cover overhead as we expand and add employees,” said Marvin, “build development, help us to get films made.”
Meanwhile, Covino and Marvin kept going to film festivals like SXSW and Deauville, where “The Climb” shared a prize with “The Lighthouse.” They had no idea how long they would be on the circuit, where they enjoyed bonding with other filmmakers, from Robert Eggers to Bong Joon Ho. “We didn’t actually realize the length of this process,” said Marvin, “which is a mixed blessing. It is not the best feeling to wait this long for the world to see the film. But I can’t complain about going to all these great festivals.”
Was their movie ever going to come out? SPC waited to release the movie until after the 2019/2020 award season, even as Covino landed a Best First Feature Indie Spirit nomination, and booked it at Sundance 2020. It became a running gag as I ran into the guys at Telluride and Toronto 2019 and the annual Spirit Brunch in January 2020.
They didn’t have time to get upset, because their careers were taking off. They were in demand, forging Duplass brothers-esque deals to write, produce, direct, and act in various TV and film projects. Marvin has lived in Los Angeles with his wife and two daughters for ten years. While Covino stayed in Manhattan, they kept an office in Silver Lake, and continued meetings. Covino took a role in indie TV series “All Wrong.”
“We’re writing like crazy,” said Covino. “Similar dark-toned comedies with heart. We’re figuring it out as we go. I stay with my sister, where I have a bed to lay my head. It’s not as comfortable. I don’t have as much closet space. I’m still living out of a suitcase.”
As they write their next movie, “we have gotten the ability to have conversations with actors we would never have dreamed of otherwise,” said Covino, “who have seen the film and reached out.”
Casting director Francine Maisler also reached out to bring Covino in for an audition for “News of the World” (Universal, December 25), a Western directed by Paul Greengrass, to play a villain. He got it. “In the fall I went to New Mexico and shot that,” said Covino. “It was one of the coolest experiences ever. I just remember sitting on the side of a mountain with a gun in my hand with Tom Hanks on the other rock with a gun in his hand, firing guns back and forth at each other, like one of those things you play as little kids with cap guns. In what alternate universe did I end up playing around out in the desert with Tom Hanks shooting guns at each other?”
The duo are continuing to produce other filmmakers. They produced indie flicks “Babysitter” (2015), Justin Tipping’s “Kicks” (2016), and writer-director Josh Locy’s SXSW debut “Hunter Gatherer,” starring Andre Royo, a 2016 Indie Spirit Cassavetes nominee. Topic is backing Watch Locy’s second film “Body Blow,” a love story about two boxers who accidentally kiss in the ring.
And Marvin wrote thriller “The Quench,” to be directed by Amman Abbasi (“Dayveon”). In the works is a first feature from Daniel Antebi. “There are so many brilliant, talented filmmakers out there who need to get their first movies made as well as their second or third films,” said Marvin. “Let’s help them find financing.”
The writing team has already penned an eight-episode anthology TV series about people in failing in relationships, “Failing in Love,” that they’re hoping to set up. “It’s a comedic view of how people break up and fall in and out of love with each other,” said Marvin, who is also adapting with Covino the true New York mobster crime book “Takedown,” which is set in the ’90s. They’re developing some documentary projects as well.
This time around, SPC isn’t rolling out a slow platform release, but rather hitting 400 theaters (depending on closings) all at once. “It was the right call for them to release it on more screens,” said Covino. “I imagine they would pull up the PVOD windows to hopefully the end of the year. They want to get it out in front of audiences.”
Sony Pictures Classics is releasing “The Climb” in select theaters on Friday, November 13.