Hollywood Director's New App Lets Viewers Choose Own Plot Inside a Murder Mystery

Hollywood director Steven Soderbergh is trying to tap into an age-old truth: The way we read, watch, and tell the stories that shape our culture changes with time and technology (the phrase “binge-watching” would have been meaningless 15 years ago). That process is punctuated by attempts to make new media out of the tools at hand, and his app, underwritten by HBO, is giving that a shot.

The app itself is a story, a murder mystery to be precise, starring the actress Sharon Stone as a children’s book author in Park City, Utah. The difference between this and any well-produced Netflix series is that viewers—or users, rather—will be able to, in a sense, choose their own adventure.

HBO Mosaic A still from the app, Mosaic. Courtesy of HBO

According to Wired, Soderbergh is not a fan of the phrase “choose your own adventure.” And he told several reporters that Mosaic is “not a TV show, and it’s not a movie...It’s something else.”

That something else unfolds as users are presented with their own choice of scenes to follow the ones they’ve just watched on their phones or other devices. Beginning scenes will introduce the cast—Stone as a children’s book author, actor Garrett Hedlund as an artist, and actor Frederick Weller as a suspicious character named “Eric.” Once viewers have met everyone in the show, they’ll have the ability to choose whose point of view they want to follow, and access other extras like voicemails and fictional news articles from the world of the show.

The Verge reports that Soderbergh tried to strike a balance so that the amount of input from a user doesn’t make Mosaic feel like a video game.

Mosaic App Courtesy of PodOp

As Wired puts it, Mosaic could be a great “test case” of new modes of storytelling like this: It’s unclear whether or not people will actually want to engage with this new format. Directors and publishers have tried to change up old formats for as long as there’ve been formats to change: Atavist aimed to make magazine writing and novels more interactive, and decades before there was an internet, author Julio Cortazar wrote Hopscotch, a novel whose chapters were written to be "hopscotched" through as the reader saw fit.

Whether or not audiences warm to this new format, HBO has already signed on for a second such project.