Panama’s size, safety and geographically exceptional location as a connector of oceans and continents are selling points for international projects planning a Latin American shoot. The well-maintained road network quickly connects jungles and mountains to coastline in a country smaller than Ireland and split roughly in half by its famous canal.
Thanks to a 2012 law, Panama also offers financial incentives for international shoots, and Panama Film Commission helps with everything from permits and customs red tape to finding locations, hiring crews and renting equipment.
The local cash rebate incentive is not as high as others in the region, including neighbouring Colombia’s 40% rebate, but Panama has other attractions, including direct flights and the use of the US dollar, which allows US productions to skip currency exchanges.
Panama has an up-and-coming industry, with rumours of a studio complex in the pipeline and growing demand from international shoots including Alastair Orr’s indie horror Indigenous, the most recent feature to film in the country, in 2014.
Panama offers a 15% cash rebate for production costs incurred in the country. The full rebate can be escrowed up front with the bond company to cashflow the production, with a $3m minimum and $40m maximum spend. Conditional approval is based on an audit and certification of expenses by a locally based public accountant. Panama uses the US dollar.
Full details on financial incentives in Panama: Panama Film Commission
Infrastructure and crews
Panama has multilingual, experienced crews and access to rental equipment. There are no unions and although crew rates may seem a bit high compared to other Latin American countries, they are not compared to the US or Europe (see the industry database on Panama Film Commission’s website). Producers recommend booking local crews early because the industry is quite small. Most international shoots bring in their own heads of department and equipment, though some regional and international outfits are opening offices in Panama. Foreign crews must register with the commission and pay $150 per week of filming for services including a one-stop shop for permits, no taxes on bringing in registered equipment, and assistance with customs by land or air.
Panama is home to rainforests, jungles, villages, cities, towns and pristine beaches that line its coasts and many islands. You can drive from the Atlantic to Pacific in an hour; from Panama City to the Costa Rican border is about eight hours by car. Panama City’s Tocumen International Airport has direct flights to and from Los Angeles, Miami and points in Europe, and serves as a hub for the rest of Latin America. Panama City, home to just under a quarter of the country’s 3.9 million residents, encompasses an unusual combination of a colonial Old Town just minutes from a modern downtown crowded with skyscrapers. The city is also considered very safe at day and night, and has an underground metro system.
First person to call
Gabriel Padilla, international project manager
Tel: +507 560 0638
Need to know
- DO be aware the use of the US dollar can make things feel expensive.
- DO contract a local fixer and make friends with Panama Film Commission.
- DO plan for humidity and rain, and its potential effect on technical equipment.