Aspen Shortsfest: Michael Covino on ‘The Climb’
IF YOU GO …
What: ‘The Climb’ at Aspen Shortsfest
Where: Wheeler Opera House, Aspen; Crystal Theatre, Carbondale
When: Aspen Wednesday, April 4, 5:15 p.m.; Carbondale Saturday, April 7, 5:15 p.m.
How much: $20 ($15 for Aspen Film members)
Tickets: Wheeler Opera House box office; www.aspenshowtix.com
More info: ‘The Climb is one of seven short films in a 92-minute program Wednesday evening; it will be followed by the program wil be followed by a second program at 8 p.m. at the Wheeler and an Apres Screening event at Mountain Social in the St. Regis from 10 p.m. to midnight; www.aspenfilm.org
A pair of friends — one chubby, one fit — don their cyclists’ spandex and click in for a ride to remember in director Michael Covino’s “The Climb.”
The film screens this evening at Aspen Shortsfest.
Co-writer and producer Kyle Marvin plays Kyle, while Covino plays Mike, who has a sensitive bit of information to share with his out-of-shape buddy. As they approach a big hill climb, Mike slyly drops the bombshell. Struggling up the hill, the friends fight and fume while tossing in some clever road-biking humor that is sure to play well to an Aspen crowd.
The idea for the film came from a personal experience involving the pseudo-betrayal of a friend and a biking passion that Covino wanted to bring to the big screen. The concept of the climb came together in Covino’s mind, unsurprisingly, on a bike ride in California.
“I was looking for a project that was contained and short and simple,” Covino, who will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A at the Wheeler, said in a recent phone interview. “I wanted something that was more like a play than anything else, about two characters and a conversation, but that could be compelling and visually dynamic. And I just love cycling.”
From a filmmaking perspective, “The Climb” also is a bit of a technical marvel.
The film is made without cuts, following the pair with an 8-minute tracking shot.
Covino and Marvin spent three weeks rehearsing before their shoot, nailing down seemingly every breath and every turn of the gears. They meticulously planned their blocking, their speed, the moments the camera would zoom in on each, the times one of them would swerve out of the frame.
“Improvised dialogue wasn’t a variable that we could deal with,” Covino explained. “I thought it would be interesting if we worked out the script so that we knew all the beats and knew the ups and downs of the conversation beforehand.”
They shot “The Climb” last summer on a quiet stretch of road less than an hour north of Los Angeles, in an area that was devastated by wildfires in the fall just a few months after the shoot.
On site, they rode their planned biking route in a car at the pace they were planning to ride, and read through the whole script so that they’d know exactly where on the climb they’d be at what moments. So by the time they got on their bikes and rolled the camera, there were no surprises. To keep things simple on the audio front, they tucked lavalier microphones into their helmets.
All of that preparation has led to a naturalistic little gem of a film that doesn’t need to show off its technical feats.
Getting into character was a bit easier for these friends and longtime producing partners: “Kyle isn’t a cyclist. The struggle he is going through is very real.”
The film screened at the Sundance Film Festival this winter, where Covino shook off some of his initial butterflies about whether the humor of “The Climb” would land.
“It’s always a pleasant surprise when you have a whole audience laughing at jokes that you think are funny,” he said. “I’ve seen it a thousand times. So there is always that uncertainty, wondering, ‘Is anybody going to laugh at this?’”
He and Marvin pitched a feature-length version of the film to investors at Sundance, got a deal and are now at work on expanding it. They plan to shoot the biking scenes in France this summer.
“Before Sundance we said, ‘If there’s a version of this story that won’t be a forced thing, that’s really something that would excite us more than the other projects we’ve been working on, then we would pursue that,’” Covino said.
Bringing the short to the Rockies, Covino said he is curious for feedback from Aspen’s notoriously hardcore cycling crowd.
“I don’t know much about it, but I know a bit about the biking community in Utah,” he said. “I’ve heard Colorado may be the more extreme.”
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