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Writer and Showrunner Ed Solomon on the Storytelling Approach of 'Mosaic'
January 22, 2018  | By David Hinckley

HBO’s new Sharon Stone (below) crime drama Mosaic poses a disturbing notion about a broader issue of life: that when we try to reassure or comfort someone by saying “I understand,” we’re almost certainly lying.

Not on purpose, says Ed Solomon (top), the writer and showrunner of Mosaic, which premieres Monday at 8 p.m. ET. We just overestimate our ability to see the world through anyone else’s eyes.

“You go through life thinking you control your story,” says Solomon, “without realizing you’re a bit player in everyone else’s story.

“You just never stop and think how the person who sits down across from you on the subway has their own story, with their own experiences, dreams, future. All we’re thinking is that their headphones might be a little loud.”

Mosaic, directed by Solomon’s collaborator Steven Soderbergh, tackles that “other perspectives” issue, though not so much for people who watch it on HBO.

The six HBO episodes are what Solomon calls “the linear version,” a somewhat traditional whodunit crime thriller triggered by the murder of Stone’s Olivia Lake character.

Thing is, HBO is only half the delivery platform for Mosaic.

Solomon, Soderbergh, and the actors also present the story on an app, which is available free and where viewers/users can choose the viewpoint from which they see particular parts of the story unfold.

The murder punchline is still the same. Viewers don’t have the option of keeping Olivia Lake alive. But they can watch events unfold from the perspectives of multiple characters.

“It shows how the same story can look very different through other eyes,” says Solomon.

Mosaic tells us upfront that Olivia was murdered, quite possibly in connection with the efforts of some shady schemers to obtain her property so they can exploit its resources. Then we travel back four years to the time of the killing and watch as friends, bystanders, those shady schemers, and law enforcement try to sort out guilt and innocence.

More specifically, those players include Joel Hurley (Garrett Hedlund, right) and his wife Laura (Maya Kazan), who have moved onto Olivia’s property at her invitation; Michael O’Connor (James Ransone), a now-rich long-time friend of Olivia; Eric Neill (Frederick Weller, below), a con man hired by the shady people to seduce Olivia into selling her land; Petra Neill (Jennifer Ferrin, right), Eric’s sister and advocate; and local law enforcers Detective Nate Henry (Devin Ratray) and sheriff Alan Pape (Beau Bridges), one of whom is more honest than the other.

Seeing an event from the perspective of Detective Henry and Eric Neill, for instance, gives viewers two radically opposite slants. It can also make viewers more sympathetic to one character than the other, which Solomon says is part of the whole point – that “experience often is not objective. It’s subjective.”

Just following Mosaic on the app rather than on HBO “is a very different experience,” he says. “For one thing, the app version builds more slowly.”

Viewers who follow every trail on the app will get about an hour and a half of additional content, which may not sound like a lot, but helped make the creation of Mosaic into a three-year process.

To ensure that the times, facts and logistics of each character’s story were consistent with those of other characters, Solomon’s writing team wrote everything down on index cards and pinned timelines to the wall of a huge war room (top).

“We had lines and arrows going every which way,” he says. “If you walked into the room, you’d have thought we were crazy people.”

Speaking of crazy, he does suggest that to avoid getting too confused, viewers should pick either the linear or the app version and follow it from start to finish, rather than trying to mix and match.

“That would get messy,” he says. “It would be hard to watch, say, the first three episodes on HBO and then switch over to the app. It wouldn’t necessarily be at the same place.”

Those who watch the HBO version could, however, then watch the app and pick up additional nuances. It’s a different kind of viewing experience, though Solomon acknowledges it isn’t the first time one story has been told from several angles.

“There are roots here to a degree in Rashomon,” he says. “But I think it may be more that Mosaic and Rashomon share roots in examining the objectivity of experience.”

Mosaic can advance that contemplation, he says, because storytelling technology itself has advanced.

“We were learning more about it as we went along,” he says. “And the technology keeps getting better. It was getting better while we were producing Mosaic. A lot of what we figured out, you won’t even see here. You’ll see it in the next projects.”

Which are in the works. And maybe this time non-techies can say “I understand” and mean it.

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