How to navigate the best locations in Costa Rica and Panama
I am often asked about the experience of shooting Costa Rica or Panama, so allow me to give you an insight into these two beautiful and amazing countries before you make the trip. While the two countries are relatively close to one another, don’t be fooled, they each offer completely different location types.
If you are looking to shoot an easy and “accessible” exotic beach, jungle or waterfall then Costa Rica is the place for you, but if instead you’re looking for a city with skyscrapers (like Miami), deserted islands, or a Caribbean town much like the ones you’ll find in Cuba or Jamaica, then Panama is your best choice.
As to be expected, the weather can be a concern. Here in the tropics, the climate operates differently than in other regions. Instead of the usual seasons you have in the Northern and Southern hemispheres we only have two season, dry season and rainy season.
For both countries the best months to shoot in the Pacific are from December (transition month to summer) through to April/May. Also the last two weeks of June are great since we have the Summer of San Juan, which usually entails two weeks of clear skies and little to no rain before rainy season sets in.
In the Caribbean the weather is very different. January is a transition month, February and March are summer months and April is also a transition month. Strangely, September and October are considered the peak of summer in the Caribbean, while the rest of the country is in the peak of rainy season.
The Green Season is getting some attention from clients since it is also a good time to shoot for its blooming vegetation and fresh green leaves are sparkly. The Caribbean is always green but the Pacific side, which is dryer, is incredibly green. If you want to shoot waterfalls, rafting or surfing then these are the best months since there is plenty of water and it looks super fresh.
The domestic market in both countries regularly produces small budget jobs so make sure your production support is well known and has sufficient experience.
Shooting in difficult to access locations requires more hands to move quickly. It's not like shooting in the middle of the city, you are moving equipment in a very humid and hot environment so the crew loses energy and moves at a different pace.
Productions supplies, wardrobe, props and equipment take more time to find, especially if you are three hours from the main city. Make sure you have at least one day between the pre-production meeting and your flights, as this will provide ample time for the art department & wardrobe to fulfil any last minute changes.
Regarding talent, both countries have a medium size community of US citizens – in fact there are more US citizens living in Costa Rica than Costa Ricans living in the US.
Talent buyouts have great prices in both countries. Both Costa Rica and Panama have between four and five million people so the number of options will be a little more limited than what you are used to in the USA and Europe. As an example, the Costa Rican population is made up of 94% whites, 3% African-American, 1% American, 1% Chinese and 1% other. The Panamanian population is 65% Mestizo (mixed white, Native American), 9.2% Black, 6.8% mulattoes, 13% White and 6% Native Americans.
To give you a better idea, we shot a job for an American client and they needed to represent a wide range of ethnicities for their spot. We had no problem finding all the looks that the client needed for the project. We hired about 15 kids and no talent had to be flown from abroad. I am pretty sure that we won´t have any problems finding a good selection, but allowing a two week period for casting is always recommended.
Another crucial point to take into consideration is that because of the remote nature of some of these locations, wireless video transmitters tend not to work very well if they are not of the highest quality. I would personally recommend using Video Village to keep your clients happy there are only a handful of reliable options in both countries that will work at the same level of quality.
I know some productions service companies like to save and not have the DoP present on prep day but I think it important that you have your DoP familiarised with their camera crew and feel confident that the setup satisfies their needs. Another thing I would recommend is that if your DoP is not familiarised with shooting near the equator for them to study and understand how the light falls in the area. Due to the location of the region in relation to sun, the light tends to be more direct and harsh than in the northern or southern hemispheres, and this can sometimes surprise DoP’s.
Last but not least, make sure you have a Paramedic on your crew and take vitamin B12 one to two weeks before the shoot. B12 makes your skin perspire a particular scent that bugs and mosquitoes hate, this way you can stay free from bug bites.
Since the market is small, there are only a few production companies that can handle big projects with to the degree that big production companies expect. Don't hesitate to pose questions to your prospective service company so you can evaluate their experience and readiness. More than anything, I am sure you will enjoy filming in either of these two beautiful country and your final product will no doubt impress your clients and audience.
As the Head of Productions as LCA Productions, José Ignacio Paris has years of experiencing in servicing projects throughout Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua. To contact Jose, click here.
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