Panama is building on its reputation for easy access and eye-catching coastal and metropolitan locations, as well as its 15% filming incentive. Production support is available from Panama Film Commission, which offers assistance with everything from permits and customs to location scouting and the hiring of local crew and equipment. The country has direct flights to the US and uses the US dollar, making production even easier for US producers.
Since Sony chose to shoot the James Bond film Quantum of Solace in Panama City back in 2008, there has been a rapid increase in the number of international feature film projects which have been shot in the country.
Some prominent titles include Contraband starring Mark Wahlberg, MTV’s Nitro Circus 3D and director Harmony Korine’s film Mister Lonely, which used the islands of Bocas del Toro as a shooting location.
There are also a number of upcoming releases that are due to be filmed predominantly in Panama. Filming began in March 2013 for the feature drama Paradise Lost based on the life of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, which will star Benicio del Toro and Josh Hutcherson. Pre-production has also started on the upcoming film Hands of Stone, about the life of boxer Roberto Duran, which will star Robert De Niro and Ryan Kwanten.
Several episodes of TV series have also used Panama as a location for filming – these include Sky TV’s The Secret Life of the Rainforest, TNT's series, The Hero, starring Dwayne Johnson, Dutch TV’s Waar is De Mol, and Discovery Channel’s X-Machines.
Since Panama’s government is keen to develop their film and television industry, officials are often found to be accommodating to filmmakers’ needs. For instance, public city locations require permits, but these can be obtained free of charge and usually only take around 48 hours to secure. It should be noted that permits for private locations or national parks can often be more costly and negotiations for access can take longer to secure.
It is important to register your projects with the Panama Film Commission, as their representatives will be able to advise you on the necessary official documentation such as visas and employment permits.
Work permits can be obtained free of charge and temporary Residency Visas can be arranged for film industry projects.
Since the film industry is a relatively new addition to the Panamanian economy, there are few facilities for filmmakers in the country at present. However, due to new investments and policies being introduced by the government, there are plans for a state of the art studio complex to be built in Panama City.
The project is being planned by Panama’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry, combined with assistance from the Oscar-winning producer Jonathan Sanger and location manager Sam Tedesco.
There are fairly limited post production facilities available in Panama, and there are no film processing or transfer facilities. Most rushes are sent to Miami for processing.
Panama has a number of different types of locations which make it a useful country for filmmakers – from modern city skylines to Spanish colonial architecture, and from dense jungles to picturesque white beaches. The country has a tropical climate all year round, with a dry season from December to May and a rainy season from June to November.
The capital, Panama City, has a high-rise skyline that can be used to replicate American cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Miami. It should be noted that there is localised gang activity in some areas of the city, which should be taken into account when planning filming schedules.
The Old Town area of the city contains colourful historic buildings from the colonial era. These areas can be used to replicate Caribbean locations such as Cuba and Haiti, or other areas of Latin America such as Bolivia.
There are a number of military bases in Panama; the US Howard Air Force Base and Fort Sherman were used in the shooting of Quantum of Solace.
The country also offers areas of natural beauty, including 13 national parks containing jungles and mountainous areas, as well as several stretches of white beaches and some picturesque tropical islands.
Since Panama’s film industry is still in its early stages of growth, there are not a huge number of equipment rental companies and production companies who can provide state of the art equipment to international filmmakers. Only basic equipment is really available locally and stock levels are relatively low. Therefore, depending on the size and requirements of your production, it may be necessary to bring specialised equipment into the country.