HBO and Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh have teamed up to create a new story told within a free app called Mosaic. It's not quite a movie, not quite a web series and not quite a TV show.
Mosaic stars Sharon Stone, Paul Rubens and Beau Bridges in a seven-hour mystery told in pieces. It's packaged to let viewers navigate their own way through the story. After watching one part of the film, which looks as polished as any other big show HBO makes, other parts are unlocked.
The story starts out focused on three characters: a children's book author named Olivia (played by Stone); an aspiring artist named Joel (Garrett Hedlund); and a potential suitor of Olivia named Eric (Frederick Weller). After the initial introductions to these three, viewers decide if they want to follow the next part of the story from the perspective of Joel or Eric. As the story develops, more characters are introduced, offering their own stories to tell.
At a San Francisco preview of Mosaic, Soderbergh was quick to emphasize that Mosaic isn't a choose-your-own-adventure. It's more of a choose-your-own-perspective. The nuance of changing the point of view as you watch a story unfold impacts how you react to the story.
"Mosaic is about an internal awareness of how subjective our experiences are," said Soderbergh, who has played with the structure of storytelling with films like "Sex, Lies, and Videotape," "Bubble" and "Full Frontal."
"While branching narratives have been around forever, technology now allows, I hope, for a more elegant form of engagement than used to be possible."
Soderbergh ("Traffic," "Ocean's Trilogy," "Erin Brockovich") and screenwriter Ed Solomon ("Men In Black," "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure") worked closely with media and technology company PopOp to develop the app. The story wasn't written to fit the app. Rather, the story and app were developed in tandem to offer a unique storytelling experience. As viewers watch a portion of the film, small "discoveries" (video, audio, emails) offer a deeper look at the characters and world.
Mosaic is part of a new wave of interactive content driven by technology and creativity. In June, Netflix launched branching episodes of two animated shows aimed at families: "Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale" and "Buddy Thunderstruck: The Maybe Pile." These experiences are more of the choose-your-own-adventure style, letting families decide on character and plot choices.
You can download Mosaic on iOS, AppleTV or on Android. Soderbergh also did a more linear edit of the story that will air as a six-part limited series on HBO starting Monday Jan. 26.