The Climb, as seen by Michael Covino

Picture of the movie The Climb © Topic Studios

In his first feature film, American actor and director Michael Covino reflects on friendship by exploring its limits. The Climb tells the story of Kyle and Mike, two friends whose relationship is put to the test after the latter sleeps with the former's fiancée. The film is competing for the Caméra d'or.

What inspired you to begin work on this film ?

It was a short film to begin with so we had already created this concise world that we thought was interesting. It was based on two characters who had a relationship that wasn’t fully articulated or explained but it was clear that their friendship was never going to break or fall apart no matter what happened. Testing that friendship became a really fun exploration and journey to go on; “what happens when you have people in your life that no matter what you will still have in your life because of the bond or love you share for each other?” That was our starting place with the story and it quickly evolved into a love story about friendship.

Could you describe your working method and the atmosphere on set ?

My approach to this film was similar to that of a play in a lot of ways. Each scene was shot in one take, so there was a great deal of planning required beforehand and we didn’t leave a lot of room for improvisation. For each scene we built in a rehearsal day with all of the actors, the camera up and running and the full crew on the set. That was our day to work out the choreography, the blocking and the pace. It gave me a chance to dial things in and find the rhythm, essentially editing the scene for pace on the day. Giving a lot of time for rehearsal with camera allowed me to focus more on performance during the shoot days. This process created a really interesting and amazing environment on set where it almost felt like an athletic event where people were intensely focused and really dedicated to nailing it. When you have a nine or ten minute scene with a lot of complicated moving parts, you can sense that everyone wants to be perfect, because the stakes are so much higher than in a scene where you’re shooting traditional coverage. I think this process elevated the performance of the actors, crew, and myself.

Can you share a few words about your actors ?

We knew we wanted to work with a collection of theater actors on this film because it was so crucial that everyone could live as the characters throughout these long scenes, while also following a detailed script and blocking. It was fun to see this ensemble cast of characters bring life to the script in a way Kyle and I never expected. The nuance, care and specificity that they all brought to their characters imbues the film with a beautiful texture that is true to the world we were trying to create. It wasn’t an easy task for them because a lot of the time they had to define their character in just a few lines of dialogue, so the detail of performance they brought to those lines was critical.

What are your views on the state of the film industry in your country ?

There has become this crazy demand for content in the US. As a result there are a lot more companies outside of the studio system making films, which is exciting for filmmakers because it gives us more opportunities to make films. But it also provides a greater challenge, because so many American filmmakers are dealing with similar themes and characters, often really beautifully made films don’t stand out as much. I remember seeing Matteo Garrone’s Reality in Cannes and it being a revelation for me. It was a reminder of some of the amazing cinema continually being created throughout the world. I think the American film industry needs these reminders as the films we create sometimes suffer as a result of insulation from global cinema.