“It’s not a TV show, and it’s not a movie. It’s something else.”
That’s what the director of Traffic, Ocean’s 11, Erin Brockovich and Logan Lucky - Academy Award-winning Steven Soderbergh - told The Verge about his latest project, Mosaic, a viewing experience like nothing else out there right now.
Mosaic is essentially a murder mystery story, but it’s also a lot more than that. It will be released in a standard TV format on HBO in January next year, but as of a couple of days ago, it’s available to watch in a totally different way via its own app.
Starring Sharon Stoke as author Olivia Lake, Garrett Hedlund as artist and handyman Joel, and Frederick Weller as a man HBO call “a suitor whose motives might not be genuine”, Mosaic allows you to choose to watch scenes from the perspectives of different characters, gathering all sorts of information along the way.
You are introduced to the characters at the start, and then asked whether you want to watch from Joel or Eric’s perspective. Then, as key moments come along, you are again given the choice of whose point of view you want to take.
You are allowed to go back and watch scenes from several different perspectives, so that you can eventually take in all the information. There is roughly seven and a half hours of total footage, meaning if you get really hooked, you can breeze through the entire show in a day.
The app allows you to make ‘discoveries’ - essentially bonus content which you’ll pick up depending on which character’s viewpoint you’ve chosen. These discoveries will be things like voicemail messages, emails and newspaper clippings that could help you get to the bottom of what’s going on.
While Netflix announced earlier this year that they were going to start trialling ‘choose your own adventure’ style shows, where you could affect the outcome of events, Mosaic is different. Events are fixed and we can’t change what’s happening in front of it, it’s how we watch that’s flexible.
Soderbergh told The Verge: “I didn’t feel I was relinquishing control at all — it’s a fixed universe. I get to determine when those choice moments occur, and how they occur. I get to choose what the discoveries are, and how they pop up.”
The plot has been kept very tightly under wraps so far, but the app is now available from the iTunes store here, and has been receiving very good reviews.
One five-star review said: “This might be my first or second review ever, which shows how much I appreciate this app (I’ve been with Apple from the beginning and my phone is loaded with apps). I know eventually, when this really takes off it will end up being a charge per show, and I understand (business is business). But I am very thankful to be at the front row test drive for this groundbreaking concept. I am a writer and can very much see this become the “new” form of storytelling. Looking forward to what comes next!”
And another wrote: “New and innovative way to watch investigative TV shows. Super interactive and captivating. I hope that more shows are released this way in the future. Only wish that the story could have continued.”
Given that the technology exists, it would make sense that we start to see more and more shows and films that give us a little more control over what’s happening on-screen. Whether this becomes the new normal, though? It’s too early to tell.