Interview: Director Mark Neveldine On PANAMA Starring Cole Hauser & Mel Gibson
Director Mark Neveldine is known for his kinetic action movies like the Crank films and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. He’s back with Panama, a new ’80s set action-thriller starring Cole Hauser and Mel Gibson. Hauser plays Becker, an ex-marine who travels to Panama to complete an arms deal just before the the U.S. invasion in 1989. Gibson is Stark, the tough C.I.A. operative who hires Becker for the job and keeps an eye action from the sidelines.
Panama (available now on digital and On Demand) is a fun throwback which is both energetic and entertaining. It’s a bright and vibrant film which makes excellent use of its Puerto Rico locations (standing in for Panama). There’s plenty of bone crunching action – and the winning combination of Cole Hauser and Mel Gibson.
Movies In Focus had the opportunity to question Mark Neveldine about the film and the director gave insight into what it’s like making an an old-school action thriller with two stars, stunts – and only a few weeks shooting time.
Can you tell me how Panama came about for you?
It was brought to me in 2019 with Morgan Freeman and Frank Grillo attached. Highland Films told me there was this script based on a true story about an operative buying a chopper from a drug dealer to kill Noriega with it in 1989 right before the invasion of Panama. I enjoyed the read and signed on. Then Covid hit and everything was shelved for the year and actors schedules changed, and I got a call in late October of 2020 saying that they had Cole and Mel and we could pull it off in 14-15 days in Puerto Rico in December. I love Cole and Mel and I love challenges, so we all dove in.
Cole Hauser and Mel Gibson make for a great combination. How did they get attached to the film?
After Covid messed up everyone’s schedules there was a silver lining: Cole and Mel were available and they both thought the movie was fun.
Gibson’s an Oscar-winning director who also knows how to deliver great action sequences. What was was it like directing him?
Mel is a total pro. We were on an incredibly tight schedule, 14 days, and Mel helped distill down exactly what his character needed to tell the story. He tore his rotator cuff five days before the shoot and still powered through the fight scenes without a stunt double.
Puerto Rico looks like a fantastic location – what was it like working there?
Because of Covid, budget, etc, I wasn’t able to bring my crew. But I made friends for life with this new Puerto Rican crew. They were on top of everything and their love of filmmaking and excitement was inspiring and needed on a quick shoot like this.
What were the biggest challenges in making the film?
Time. And trying to quickly rewrite scenes to adjust to certain locations without taking away from the story.
The film is set just before the U.S. invasion of Panama at the tail end of the ‘80s. How much research did you do – or did you just let the script speak for itself?
I love the ’80s, a kid of the ’80s, but we spent a good deal of time watching videos of Panama from 1989. What was wild was the contrast between the invasion/war and the beautiful, quiet areas of Panama that was completely untouched.
Across your career you’ve pushed a lot of boundaries with your action sequences – how do you plan them out?
I block them out with the stunt coordinator. And then I love thinking about all of the camera angles that I can capture those ideas from. What I also like to do is hire actors and stunt performers that can help bring the most to the action scenes. No matter how small those scenes are. For Panama, there was a lot of hand to hand and a lot of gunfire. With such a tight schedule, the number one priority was safety and generally safety requires time, so we didn’t get everything we aimed for but because of our great stunt coordinator, Frank and our great Puerto Rican crew, they over delivered what I expected.
You’re a director, writer and you sometimes operate the camera on your films. Which do you enjoy most and why?
When I’m writing, I love writing. I might enjoy directing the most, but I also just love having that camera in my hands especially because of the budgets I work with. I like to set the pace and I can do that with a camera in my hands.
The film industry has changed in many ways since you made your directing debut back in 2006. How do you feel it has improved – and what are some of the negative things about thee changes.
The camera technology has improved. The budgets and quantity of days has not. That said, there’s an opportunity for smaller films to get made and for that I’m grateful.
What’s next for you?
I’m writing a couple of features, and I’m launching a production company in Nashville.
Panama is out now on digital and On Demand.