Dionys Frei and Davide Tiraboschi have achieved what many people dream of. They regularly work for Hollywood with their drone company Dedicam.
For almost 10 years Dionys Frei and Davide Tiraboschi and their company Dedicam have been at the forefront of the international drone business. Their career has made childhood dreams come true.
Interview with Dionys Frei and Davide Tiraboschi
Filmpulse:Your entry into the international film business sounds like a story by a screenwriter. Hand on heart: How did it really start, with you two and Hollywood?
Dionys Frei:We were in Saudi Arabia for a commissioned film. One night suddenly the phone rang. A lady from Michael Bay’s production team was on the phone. She asked us if we had time to fly to Malta immediately to work with our company Dedicam on a Hollywood film.
Man you’re stupid! Michael Bay calls… – and you say no.
Dionys Frei, Dedicam
Michael Bay would love to have us on the set of “13 Hours”, she continued. I told her that Dedicam is currently working on an assignment in Saudi Arabia and we are staffed. But we’ll be available again in a week. I thought to myself afterwards: ‘You’re so stupid… Michael Bay calls you and you cancel’ (both laugh).
Davide Tiraboschi:Well, the job in Saudi Arabia was actually in the can after a week. We went back to Switzerland. After two days the phone rang again. The same lady from Bay’s production team called us again. She actually wanted to know what the deadline was. The lady was from Germany and worked for Babelsberg Studios. She got in touch with us through a former colleague who had already worked with us.
Dionys Frei:She once booked us for two days. Another funny thing is this: When it came to fees and all the financial stuff, she tried to negotiate our rate down. After all, it was advertising for us and Dedicam, like with Michael Bay… blah, blah, blah. Davide> said coldly “No”. “Other clients would pay more, too. and his people wouldn’t pay Hollywood. After a short hesitation she agreed without further discussion (both laugh).
Filmpulse:You daredevils! How did these two days on the set in Malta go?
Dionys Frei:As soon as these two days were over, we were asked if we wanted to stay a little longer. Two days turned into several weeks! They even wanted to buy us out of upcoming, other orders for Dedicam.
Filmpulse:Were you actually nervous before the first shot?
Dionys Frei:Some people on the set were wondering why there was a new drone team there again. When we found out the reasons, the pressure increased a little bit. In addition, the set was enormously spectacular and incredibly impressive, just by its size and all the other things around it: There was fire everywhere, something exploded in every scene …
Davide Tiraboschi:We were already the third or fourth drone team. The previous teams had been fired by Michael Bay himself with great regularity on the first day!
Dionys Frei:Why did we find out, of course: Unstable cameras that gave jerky pictures. Another team, which flew its own drone into a tree and only spoke French. Both obviously made the cooperation somewhat more difficult.
Filmpulse:Did Michael Bay care about who you are?
Dionys Frei:At the beginning he looks at you a bit strangely. Like “Oh, so that’s them, the new drone clowns … let’s see how long they last…” But then we had our first flight. Unlike the other teams, we didn’t land the drone on the ground, but on our table. There we got our first scene applause.
Davide Tiraboschi:We always land on our table! That is standard with us. It shows the crew that we master our craft with the highest precision. Everyone clapped. We immediately got on very well with the crew.
Filmpulse:That led to “Transformers: The Last Knight”, which was shot in England?
Davide Tiraboschi:Yes exactly. It would certainly have been cheaper to take a team from England on location. But Michael wanted us. So the production team had to pull out all the stops to meet his request. This included taking Dionys to the UK for the English drone flight license.
Dionys Frei:So I went to England especially for this before the shoot. You have to grab those chances.
Davide Tiraboschi:You know, Michael’s producer in England, he said to us: ‘Hey guys, what did you do with Michael? He wants you and nobody else. NO ONE!’ I can still remember our first Transformers-Shot very well: mountainous terrain, narrow path where we had our spot. Bay suddenly shouted “Drone … Go! …”. Our drone went up…
Davide Tiraboschi:Then you heard him from above, croaking in a voice that was exaggerated and jagged “… left, left… right, right! Right… left! … right! …». It was unmistakable that he was imitating me, because this way, as Dionys cameraman who pilots the drone, I always give the instructions for the control. Michael Bay always heard this on the set of “13 Hours” as soon as we were in action. Apparently he had this – and therefore also our presence and work – in good memory. After the first shot, which went very well, he said in front of the assembled crowd: “You see, this is the reason why I wanted to have these guys!
Filmpulse:Bay produces blockbuster. That is, films that are under enormous pressure to generate income and profits in the millions. Doesn’t a person like that have an incredible stress?
Dionys Frei:Michael is always on 180!
Davide Tiraboschi:He is a complete workaholic. From early in the morning until late in the evening.
Dionys Frei:On the set he has a break. Because when he takes a break, nothing works anymore. Most of the time he only goes to sleep for a short time after shooting, only to cut the scenes for hours afterwards. On the last day of shooting there is already a very good rough cut. At least that’s what we experienced with “13 Hours”.
Filmpulse:Is his energy inspiring?
Dionys Frei:He can drive and motivate people enormously well. And he doesn’t make it too complicated. Because he doesn’t give his crew much leeway (laughs). He says clearly how and what he wants. Or he tells you nothing at all and you have to decide for yourself what fits.
What the fuck?! Go up there, find a shot!
Filmpulse:So were you also forced to improvise?
Dionys Frei:I may remember a scene on the Transformers set in England. He said “I need a drone!”. I went to him and asked him for some instructions, because the scene was quite complex. But he looked at me with big eyes and said very definitely: “What the fuck?! Go up there and find a shot!”. (both laugh)
Davide Tiraboschi:Otherwise, however, he already appreciates it if you make two or three suggestions and he can accept or reject them. But too much explanation and ‘blah-blah-blah’, that’s not good at all.
Dionys Frei:With the Camera Operators, for example, in situations like this he has already solved the problem by ripping the camera out of their hands and filming the shot himself.
Filmpulse:So you’d rather not have any questions and queries on the set?
Dionys Frei:You just have to think about it very carefully. If your questions really help the overall product, that’s completely OK. But just think about whether your question really does!
Filmpulse:Did he ever freak out?
Davide Tiraboschi:There is nothing greater than Michael Bay. Just check out some making-of’s on YouTube…
Dionys Frei:If he exposes you in front of the crew, you shouldn’t take it too personal. Like I said, he’s under a lot of power. Fortunately, we at Transformers have been completely spared this. At “13 Hours” Davide got a super nice ‘Rüffel’ (Swiss German for Anschiss, editor’s note) (laughs). After that Davide was so small as I have never seen him before. He wanted to book the flight back to Switzerland immediately. Fortunately it was the weekend! On Monday it was better again.
Davide Tiraboschi:Man! It was beyond good and evil to get a real lecture from Bay (laughs).
Filmpulse:Are there also moments when Michael shows you that he appreciates the cooperation?
Dionys Frei:It’s not much. But he still shows you that he likes you. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here anyway, believe me. A nice example was, for example, the Transformers set. My son was born shortly before the shoot. When he saw us on set, Michael immediately asked about the little one. He told me with a wink, “Well, now you have no other choice and you have to work! But sure, big time to chat with you just like that, he doesn’t have that. Because there are so many things expected of him in every corner.
Davide Tiraboschi:I was particularly impressed by how everything works on a set like this. An estimated 1,000 people, a huge, really huge arsenal of props. And everything works. This huge logistical apparatus. It’s also a sign that the work is appreciated. So you need the best people, who in turn work for the best people. And that’s also a kind of appreciation. And our hotel in London: five stars. Top! They’ll make sure you’re all right. But it’s also a lot to be asked of you.
Filmpulse:When everything is so well organized, did you always know when your assignment would be?
Dionys Frei:No. You shouldn’t be in Michael’s field of vision if possible (laughs). But if he needs you, you must be ready immediately. Everything must work then. That’s why you’re actually in the background all day long, but you’re always trying to listen and understand where it’s all going. Because when it’s your turn, you have to deliver. Within a few minutes.
Filmpulse:Have these experiences from the blockbuster production satisfied your appetite for bombastic sets and gigantic productions or would you like more?
Dionys Frei:Well, I’ll be right back. It was always very, very intense. But at the same time so unique. I only mean these sets. So huge, you can’t even imagine. Real ‘Battlefields’. Big boy dreams. Surreal.
Davide Tiraboschi:I’d like to join him. Loooos! [both laugh]
Filmpulse:Would you like to tell us something about the beginnings of your company Dedicam?
Dionys Frei:It all started in 2009, when I worked as a cameraman and editor in a studio and also ran a cinema. Even then I invested a lot of time in model making and started to design my own drones. When I was in Sörenberg, Lucerne, for a few test shots, I met Davide there. He was thrilled and wanted to see my pictures. However, he let me know right away that there was potential for optimization, because the image wobbles too much. Spontaneously he offered that he himself would build a better gimbal (a system for mounting a camera consisting of two intersecting pivot bearings at right angles to each other, editor’s note) for me. I didn’t expect anything big (laughs). A week later, however, Davide actually called. That was when I went to Meiringen for the first time.
Filmpulse:And the orders, when did they come?
Dionys Frei:Shortly afterwards we were allowed to film a major event in England with Dedicam for Mammut. Davide and I had already made some valuable contacts before our Dedicam time. Moreover, the drone was not even known in the film business at that time. And everyone who saw what kind of pictures it produced became a fan. But sure, we had our supporters. For example Christoph Frutiger. But also Davide’s connections to Simon Wandeler and Bernhard Spahni of Red Bull, which he built up through his freestyle movies, were worth gold. That’s why we have also shot many projects for them. Yes, and then the Swiss television SRF came soon. And they wanted to shoot more and more live stories with us.
Davide Tiraboschi:Through these connections we were used to handling international assignments with Dedicam from the very beginning. I can still remember our Red Bull assignments in Brussels and Ibiza. And this was even before our contracts for television. We owe a lot to companies like Red Bull and Mammut in this respect. After all, especially in the beginning you need clients who believe in your talent and are willing to take a risk with you.
Filmpulse:Keyword Swiss television and live coverage of ski races: Was it a new era for you when you brought the Hundschopf Jump in a new live dimension into the living room with Dedicam at the Lauberhorn races?
Dionys Frei:Absolutely. But not only for us – also for Swiss television. That was 2012, and SRF Sport producers Beni Giger and Beat Zumstein were determined to see this through with us. But after two years we have drawn a line under the sand. At first we encountered great incomprehension. But when a drone crash with almost catastrophic consequences for the Austrian ski racer Michael Hirscher happened, suddenly everyone praised us for our common sense.
Davide Tiraboschi:You know, the question is not whether something like this can happen. It’s just when. As a drone pilot you are always at your limit for the great pictures. Actually, you’re always a little above it…
Filmpulse:Courageous decision. Did you work for television in other areas afterwards?
Davide Tiraboschi:After that, and already parallel to our work for television, came the advertising for cars. That already started in 2011 with a project for Audi. Their production company contacted us and we had our first shoot for them in Monaco. They found us via Facebook. Shortly afterwards BMW and Seat joined us. 2014 and 2015 were almost exclusively filled with orders for cars. That ultimately saved our company Dedicam. On the small Swiss market alone we would not have survived. Today, every cameraman has his Phantom in his luggage and lets it take off on the set. For most movies nothing bigger is needed. There we from Dedicam are too much of a good thing: Our drones and we are in a different league, where – as mentioned before – you’re always at the limit of what’s possible.
Diony’s Frei:We also had drones early on, which allowed us to fly loaded with REDs and Arris. That’s what set us apart from the competition. Because only with such and similar cameras are big productions captured.
Filmpulse:What opened doors for you on the domestic market?
Dionys Frei:Aschi Michel from Wengen not far from Meiringen, he was the location scout for the Swiss location for the remake of “Point Break”, brought us on board for this project. Suddenly we were part of this feature film crew and filmed in Lauterbrunnen. Including actors, stunt doubles and director. Altogether we were about 50 people on the mountain. All of them flatlanders who are not used to mountains (laughs). At first we were already impressed by the whole thing. But especially at “Point Break” there was a certain disillusionment. Because Hollywood can also mean that everything is much more complicated. More people, more crew, more logistics.
Filmpulse:How did the journey with you and Dedicam continue?
Dionys Frei:The next feature film was an action sci-fi thriller, “Geostorm” with Gerard Butler. Director was Dean Devlin. For that we were in Dubai. We flew through the canyons between the high-rise buildings. In the digital post-production, tidal waves were then animated into our shots. For a long time it was not sure how and when the film would be released. But now it had its premiere in Germany a month ago, I think.
Davide Tiraboschi:You know, our contacts in Dubai were also a direct consequence of our car advertisements. We shot two major stories there with Dedicam. A lot is done locally on these race tracks. This resulted in valuable additional contacts, which led to orders for TV stations from the Emirates. And, how it works, when you do a great job, people tell people about it.
Filmpulse:How does it work in Hollywood when a job is done? You always want to generate follow-up orders. And in such a case, in the face of the ‘Big Boys’…
Diony’s Frei:… When we finished “13 Hours”, Michael told us that he was looking forward to working with us again …
After the Transformers shoot I was knocked out. I was literally dead.
Davide Tiraboschi:… and he – respectively his staff – actually got in touch again when it came to “Transformers: The Last Knight”. But I’ll tell you this: Especially after the Transformers shoot, I was knocked out. I was literally dead. But the experience is unique. Being on location in this dimension has a lasting effect. Because you’re not just on the set with the director. You casually ask the camera crew what they have done in their career. And you get the answer: “Back to the Future”, “Indiana Jones”.
Diony’s Frei… and then Anthony Hopkins… and Mark Wahlberg. Although, Wahlberg we didn’t find either of them a hoot. But Sir Anthony: WOW! This person is magic.
Filmpulse:What were they like? I mean Hopkins is really … how should I put it? It doesn’t get any bigger than that anymore!
Dionys Frei:Sir Anthony was, as I said, very cool. He was super. An absolute super professional. He knows his lines and if he doesn’t, he’ll make one up.
Davide Tiraboschi:Mr. Hopkins was also that person, to whom even Bay was enormously decent and obliging. It was beautiful and touching to see it that way.
Dionys Frei:But you know, we’ve also used Dedicam to make the drone fly for Swiss feature films. “Schellenursli” was of course also a highlight. Being able to work with Xavier Koller was also a dream experience. He’s also a real professional and a great personality.
Filmpulse:Oscar director Xavier Koller even wore your Dedicam cap at press conferences.
Davide Tiraboschi:Don’t say it. So awesome! During the whole shooting he wore the thing!
Dionys Frei:Xavier really enjoyed working with us. And these are great moments that motivate you to keep going. And for a Swiss film this film was a huge production. We were fully committed to it.
Filmpulse:What were the reactions from Switzerland to your successful Hollywood adventures?
Dionys Frei:Very positive. The question was always how such huge productions come across a small Swiss company like Dedicam from the Bernese Alps. Because, it’s already a big thing. But that’s just the way it is. It has happened.
Filmpulse:Speaking of Switzerland and big feature films: why is there so little production in Switzerland?
Dionys Frei:It’s simply too expensive. Everything. The accommodation, the food, the people …
Filmpulse:How do you, as Swiss, do that on the international market, where the lower costs mentioned above cause us more worry than pleasure?
Dionys Frei:Our prices at Dedicam are similar to those of foreign providers. Whatever is important for us are the travel costs and the effort for the transport. For orders where we are on the road for days or weeks, this is put into perspective. For one-day jobs, however, Dedicam quickly makes us twice as expensive as a local provider because of these costs.
Davide Tiraboschi:It always depends on who is in charge. And that also serves as a motivator for all creative dreamers out there: In the end, it’s the result that counts. Despite all circumstances. At Transformers, Bay explicitly wanted us: the two Swiss friends from Meiringen, at the foot of the Grimsel and Susten passes.
Filmpulse:Thank you very much for the inspiring conversation, Dionys and Davide! Lots of Rock ‘n’ Roll, have fun at your three-week shooting in Jordan starting in the next days and see you soon.
Background to the interview
In an exclusive interview with FILMPULSE, the two Swiss Dionys Frei and Davide Tiraboschi talk about their unusual career, experiences with Hollywood and their collaboration with top director Michael Bay. Our author Neil Raouf, like Davide, who grew up in picturesque Meiringen in the Bernese Oberland, was able to meet the two drone professionals for a casual chat among colleagues. The result is a portrait in the form of an interview, which tells of the wild ride of two intrepid Swiss through the international film scene, but also shows great passion and a good portion of humour.
Dedicam can be found on the website of the company. Here you can also find information about other projects of Dedicam like “Star Trek Beyond” and “Emerald City”.