Plotting the many courses of Mosaic — for the HBO series and its companion app — was, well, complicated.
Ed Solomon burned through many packets of Post-it notes while writing Mosaic, an HBO limited series that required him to create one version of the detective crime drama for TV consumption and multiple other renditions to be viewed on a mobile app.
"It was a fascinating process to keep track of," Solomon says. He used different-colored sticky notes for the individual characters' narratives, then attached them to dry boards. Story threads crisscross, overlap and separate again, so that the physical layout resembles an intricate electrical circuit board.
"That was what I had to hold in my head," says Solomon, whose previous writing credits include Men in Black and the two Now You See Me films.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh (who also served as director of photography and editor), Mosaic is a whodunit that revolves around the sudden disappearance of a successful children's book author, Olivia Lake (Sharon Stone). The discovery of a bloody crime tableau on her estate in Park City, Utah, suggests she was murdered. But by whom? And why? Many characters appear to be suspicious and have motives.
For television viewers, the plot unspools in a traditional linear fashion, although its ending leaves some wanting more clarity. "If you need a more definitive answer," Solomon says, "check out the app," which is constructed like a game. Users cannot change the plot, but they have some command over how the story is told.
App users start with Olivia's point of view. At various junctures, they can or must choose another character's perspective — helping to fill in blanks or reveal potential subterfuge. As a bonus, users can open clues. For example, you can download private emails between Olivia and a jilted lover. Click on another tab, and scientific research about a highly valuable metal, found on Olivia's property, suggests a nefarious international component.
Solomon and Soderbergh ultimately devised 18 intentional story routes, with some concluding in a way that leaves no doubt about what happened to Olivia.
"It was a lot of trial and error," Solomon says, since they were building the app technology as they went along. (They saved some tricks for their next interactive TV series, already in the works.)
"For me, the main impetus of doing it this way was to push the boundaries of where storytelling could be going," he says. "I'm really proud of it. We tried something that has no precedent in broadcast history."
The Mosaic app is available for free download on iOS and Android, or visit watchmosaic.com; the series is available on HBO Go and HBO Now.
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 6, 2018