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Kerry Washington on Her New Facebook Show and How Technology Is Diminishing Hollywood’s Gatekeepers

Kerry Washington, star of ABC’s “Scandal,” said the scripted teen drama she’s executive producing for Facebook’s Watch video platform is an example of how technology is eroding the clout of Hollywood’s traditional power brokers.

“The latest inspiration for storytelling in the digital and tech space involves more voices at the storytelling table,” she said. “Hollywood is going to spend a lot of time grappling with this… The power of the gatekeepers is being lessened and lessened.”

Washington discussed her new show for Facebook, “Five Points,” at CES 2018 in Las Vegas as part of Facebook’s C Space Storytellers session Tuesday.

Announced in October, the 10-episode “Five Points” is set on Chicago’s South Side and follows high school students from five different points of view. When violence shakes the community, all of the characters’ different perspectives will be necessary to understand the truth.

Washington said Facebook’s Watch ability to combine distribution with community-based group discussions — as well as providing live interactions with the show’s cast — made “Five Points” ideally suited for the social service. The series deals with topics including LGBT identity, gun violence, drug use, and bullying (although she added that “we’re not making a public service announcement or an after-school special”). Her hope is that “Five Points” will spur Facebook audiences to participate in talking about those issues.

“What I’m thrilled about is not only the content itself… but that we get to have it live in a space where we can combine it with groups,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to put this out without creating a place for discussion.” The cast of “Five Points” will be able to create Facebook accounts for their characters to interact with the audience, as well, Washington said.

“Five Points” is slated to premiere on Facebook Watch sometime next month. The social giant launched Watch in the U.S. late last summer, in a bid to drive up video-viewing consumption by users and provide a home for longer-form, episodic content separate from Facebook’s News Feed.

Fidji Simo, Facebook’s VP of product for video, hosted the discussion with Washington. The exec has high hopes for “Five Points”: “We think it has the potential to be truly genre-breaking… to really bring content and community together.”

The show’s cast includes “CSI: Cyber” alum Hayley Kiyoko, actress-model Madison Pettis, Ray Cham Jr., Trey Curtis, Nathaniel Potvin, Jake Walker and Spence Moore II.

Years ago, Washington said she was wary of participating in social media. But now she credits social media with the success of “Scandal.” “When ‘Scandal’ came along, we were not poised to be a hit,” she said. It took a grassroots base of viewers “to build a community around the show and uplift it.”

Ahead of her appearance at CES, Washington on Tuesday shared a behind-the-scenes photo from “Five Points” on social media of herself with executive producers Rodrigo Garcia (left) and Jon Avnet (right):

According to Simo, Facebook’s Watch platform has the potential to “reinvent” a lot of genres, including reality television, game shows and scripted dramas. “Through the lens of what would that look like if you’re putting the story in the hands of your audience in real time.”

Washington’s production company, Simpson Street, is looking at developing other new storytelling projects in the digital space, including using virtual reality and augmented reality. “We’re all trying to figure out how to utilize VR in a way that best serves storytelling,” she said, adding that VR has the potential to let the viewer “step into someone else’s shoes.”

The actress, producer and activist — who is attending CES for the first time — also said she much prefers producing to acting from the “time-management perspective.”

“You don’t have to sit in the hair and makeup chair for three hours as a producer,” Washington said. She said she isn’t hanging up her acting hat, but “I find producing feeds me from a creative perspective, from an intellectual perspective, from a technical perspective.”

“Five Points” was created by Adam Giaudrone, who serves as writer and executive producer. Washington will executive produce under her Simpson Street banner. Jon Avnet and Jake Avnet of Indigenous Media will also executive produce with Indigenous’ Sage Scroope and Ben Fast also producing. Rodrigo Garcia and Thomas Carter (“Save the Last Dance”) will also executive produce, with Carter also directing.

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