Ed Solomon on How Mosaic Brought Out the Best in Him
HBO: Why this approach for Mosaic – using the framework of a murder mystery to explore subjectivity and character perspective?
Ed Solomon: Every human being is the lead character of their own narrative. One of the driving forces in the development of this thing was the notion that your story is your story. You cross paths with someone, intersect their story, but you don’t really stop to think that their story has every bit as much primacy, as much tension, as much baggage, as much drama as your story does. The idea of being able to bring that forward in a narrative form seemed really interesting.
HBO: What distinctions do you draw between the app experience and the six-part series created for television?
Ed Solomon: It’s like fraternal twins. Same DNA, same womb, same family, but the app and the so-called “linear version” for television had completely different needs and desires. You don’t try to raise them to be the same. One of them is much more definitive, one of them much less.
The app version is an exploration of subjectivity in a narrative experience. It puts you in a very different brain space than the version where you sit back and the story is told to you. The linear version wants a different thing. It actually needed to be rebuilt shot by shot by shot.
HBO: In a lot of ways, watching Mosaic through the app feels similar to reading a novel.
Ed Solomon: Writing it felt more like structuring a novel. With a novel you can jump into the subjectivity of different characters with the stroke of a pen. In one paragraph, you can jump between three people’s points of view. Think about how people read books: They read a book and they turn the page. With Mosaic you’re touching your screen.
HBO: What was it like collaborating with Steven Soderbergh on this project?
Ed Solomon: One of Steven’s many, many gifts is to bring out what is both natural and organic in you. But also to highlight, to encourage, to allow you to really dig deeper and come forward further. Steven is actually an incredibly literate filmmaker. He told me he sees his role not to insert himself into the process, but rather to help determine what the essential “it-ness” of the project is. To bring that forward as much as possible. We were trying not to let the gimmick lead us. The first thing we did was write about characters that really mean something to us. I was trying to write characters that really meant something to me in sequences that I would want to watch, regardless of format.
We knew we were going to try and go deeper into subjective points of view. There was a lot of thought about backstory, about deeper emotional desires, about lies characters tell themselves about themselves. Things you often don’t get to explore in traditional film or TV.
HBO: Do you see the story hanging on Olivia Lake as the heart and soul of the piece?
Ed Solomon: It was designed that way actually. We initially began Mosaic with a cold opening: There’s a body, and people are trying to figure out who did it. It put the wrong kind of weight on the viewer. It made it seem like we were trying to have the viewer solve the mystery, and that’s not what we were really trying to do.
We found that people were being asked to make choices before they really had any emotional investment. One of the biggest changes in the app was to take the Olivia Lake stuff and put her up front, so you really were invested. We wanted her to be a full person, who was really complex and who had power. One of those people who walks into the room and the molecules shift. You don't know whether you really love her, or you don’t like her. She’s a complicated, full human being.
HBO: Sharon Stone spoke about how much she appreciated the dialogue you wrote for her character. What was your experience like writing that dialogue and working with her?
Ed Solomon: There’s a kind of passing of the baton that happens where you, as the writer, knows this character, and you bring it out, and put it on the page. Then an actor takes it and brings it inside of them, and the character transforms. When you have a great actor —and we have a lot of really great actors in this cast — they make the writing better. Because they live it. It raises everyone’s work. I feel a deep indebtedness to Sharon because she dove so fearlessly off the cliff with trust.
HBO: Given that Mosaic encompasses so much more than a “murder mystery,” what would you say the story is fundamentally about?
Ed Solomon: I really love Steven’s description: This is an exploration of what happens — the chain reaction of events — that occurs when someone’s dream dies. Olivia’s biggest artistic achievement came out of a dream. Joel has this dream about who he is. All the characters have these ideas of who they are, and they get shattered in the story.
HBO: Do you think you’ll ever be able to go back to writing “normally"?
Ed Solomon: No. I don't want to. These three to four years have been creatively among the most meaningful of my life. I pushed myself to places I’ve never been; I collaborated with someone who brought the best out of me. I got to work with amazing actors, and when you do that, your writing goes through a gauntlet. It’s tested, and the feedback from the actors
is so powerful that it forces you to continue to raise your game.