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Series Mania: Tonie Marshall’s Tabo Tabo Films Prepares Series ‘Neo Paris’

Tabo Tabo Film's Tonie Marshall and Suzanne Colin discuss 'Neo Paris,' their new near-future alternative technologies thriller

Tonie Marshal
Courtesy of Tabo Tabo Films

PARIS — There were two versions of Paris on display this week at Series Mania. The first was the city itself, a multi-cultural melting pot and mecca of high art,  with world famous museums, history and restaurants, and the other an identical copy… until one logs out of the game.

Headed by distinguished French director Tonie Marshall – whose “Venus Beauty Institute” won four French Academy Cesars – Tabo Tabo Films pitched its near-future, advanced-tech television series “Neo Paris” at Tuesday’s Series Mania European TV Series Co-Production Forum. With a history of producing feature films, Tabo Tabo, as is the case with many French movie companies, is looking to move further into the TV market after having worked on 2009’s “Venus and Apollo” and last year’s “Cannabis.”

The company is looking to shoot “Neo Paris” in 2020 with a higher than usual budget for French drama, lensing in Paris, Berlin and Lebanon, with dialogues in French, English, Arabic and German, making the series ideal for an international co-production deal.

“Neo Paris” is a series about an virtual reality video game, a game which is a proposed mix of “Second Life” and “World of Warcraft” that takes place in an 3D rendered version of the City of Lights.

“In the game, players have a whole dimension where you can meet people. You can vote, buy stuff, you can have sex, be whoever you want. It’s a laboratory for social experimenting as well,” commented Tabo’s head of development for the series Suzanne Colin.

The game, however, isn’t only used by gamers looking to augment their real lives in a kind of “Ready Player One” anything goes environment. The rules for the game are concrete and the creators of the game often work hand-in-hand with police and the Parisian government using the game as a simulation for implementing new safety precautions and proposed construction projects.“(The game) is always used for good,” said Marshall, adding, however, that “there is the risk of it being hacked or deviated.”

It is just such a deviation that kicks off the action in the series. In 2025, it is revealed that a major terrorist attract in Paris was planned using the game as a beta testing ground. Arianne Estranger, CEO of the game developer’s company, is arrested while one of its founders goes missing. To tell her story, Ariane must start from the beginning, 2016, when the game development began.

While science fiction is a genre that has been neglected in French film and TV over the past few years, “Neo Paris” joins a slate of new sci-fi set to be launched in the very near future.

“Some broadcasters tried to develop sci-fi programming a while ago but it never quite worked out,” Marshall said, going on to point out the recent successes, however, of Arte France “Trepalium.” Arte France is now backing “Transfer,” a body swap procedural; pay TV operator OCS financed “Missions,” a Mars mission thriller half hour showcased like “Transfer” at Series Mania.

Colin insisted, however, that “Neo Paris” is not really “hard” science fiction. “It’s a slight anticipation [of reality], but it’s very realistic. We don’t want it to be just about the future, but also about the present.”

Series writer Mehdi Fikri echoed a similar sentiment. “This isn’t fiction. Hezbollah creates its own propaganda video games. ISIS made a jihadist version of GTA. In France, Ubisoft has solid co-operation agreements with the military to which it supplies battle simulations.” A former journalist, documentarian, and confessed hard core “Dungeons & Dragons” geek, Fikri has countless hours logged in to the games that inspired the series.

As for his goals for the Co-Production Forum: “To meet co-producers, broadcasters and international sales agents that are willing to embark on this ambitious adventure with is.”