2 Minutes With … Fri Forjindam, CDO and EC at Mycotoo

On the ability to connect with people

Fri is chief development officer and executive creative at Mycotoo, the entertainment development company behind HBO's SXSWestworld Experience, Netflix's Stranger Things: The Experience, and Star Wars: The Mandalorian Experience.

We spent two minutes with Fri to learn more about her background, her creative inspirations and recent work she's admired.

Fri, tell us …

Where you grew up, and where you live now.  

I'm Cameroon-born and raised, New York toughened, and now Los Angeles-living.

How you first realized you were creative.

Two distinct aha moments come to mind. The first was when I was a biology major at the University of Virginia. I was so deep into learning lines for my role in the spring musical—Cabaret—that it hadn't even occurred to me to register or study for the MCATs in a few months. The second was in hindsight when I look at the many boarding school infractions that usually revolved around some sort of artistic contraband, like writing short stories instead of studying during study hours, or taking a "how do you know if you're creative" personality test in high school to determine what kinds of colleges to apply to. If you have to ask, you're creative!

A person you idolized creatively early on.

Oprah Winfrey. And anyone who embodied what it means to "don't just be the talent, own the studio." In my immediate circle, that honor would go to my mother, who single-handedly built the largest privately-owned grocery chain in West Africa in the '80s and '90s—she started it from our guest room. I watched her navigate bias, non-existent loans and logistical hurdles to build a brand from scratch. Now that's creative!

A moment from high school or college that changed your life.

My first entry-level job after graduate school in Los Angeles, I got a job at a "theme park design" company. I had no idea that people actually designed theme parks. That role was the catalyst for where I am today and it totally changed my life.

A visual artist or band/musician you admire.

Laura Mvula, Lauryn Hill (her Miseducated era) and Jungle.

A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.

I recently watched the TV show Origin and the film Zone of Interest, both of which wrecked my perception of the lasting legacy of normalizing extremism. I just revisited the entire Strike Talk podcast series and found myself reminded of the power of story to make others care—how powerful storytellers are in shifting culture. As for books—Arlan Hamilton's It's About Damn Time and Ann Napolitano's Hello Beautiful reign high.

One of your favorite creative projects you've ever worked on. 

In my current role at Mycotoo, I've had the honor of working with an amazing team that focuses on creating world-class experiences. This includes serving as creative partner for the surprise announcement at the Star Wars Celebration 2022 event. We worked with Disney, LucasFilm and Fairview Portals to bring over 400 props, costumes, vehicles and artifacts from The Mandalorian to fans as part of a four-day immersive experience. It was the first time I actually earned street cred from my kids. And I got to reunite with a friend from undergrad who coincidentally is in the show. 

A recent project you're proud of. 

One that ranks high that I'm proud of is our role as creative design partner on Netflix's Stranger Things: The Experience.

Someone else's work that inspired you years ago. 

I'm a lifelong theater student. That's where I sharpened my sword, found my voice as a performer—and it's where I feel seen. These spaces put a spotlight on our collective fears, dreams and questions. They allow us to see humanity through a different lens. Lynn Nottage was a defining playwright for me, whose words always danced off the page. I hope to work with her one day. But I still turn to her plays to make sense of the world.

Someone else's work you admired lately. 

Lately, I've been obsessed with interdisciplinary designers, thinkers and innovators who use their gadgets and apps to drive impact. Examples include developers who have created geo-tagged apps that allow users to access banned books in specific areas like libraries. And scientists who build biometric sensors that let disabled people to think gestures into actions, and in so doing allow a man with ALS to DJ a live festival through an avatar. 

Your main strength as a creative person.

My ability to connect with people. One of the most important muscles an actor can flex is the ability to observe, listen and empathize by putting oneself in a character's shoes to reveal the humanity in all of us. That is powerful. That is transformational.

Your biggest weakness.

Dessert. Put chocolate mousse-infused ANYTHING in front of me and loyalty goes out the window.

A mentor who helped you navigate the industry.

She was the first woman I met who owned the room with wit, humor and an unapologetic track record as a lawyer. She's a mom, a drummer, an advocate, a connector who's not afraid to say your name in a room full of opportunities. And she owns one of the most successful legal firms in IP entertainment and location-based strategy. Her name is Wendy Heimann-Nunes. She's also a dear friend. She'd cringe if she knew I was going on and on about her.

How you're paying it forward with the next generation of creatives.

I do a lot of speaking at high schools and universities—from my alma mater Columbia to the University of Texas at Austin, and my recent invitation to Northwestern University's MSLCE program. I've had the honor of serving on boards including the Big Break Foundation (providing opportunities to next-gen creatives in the themed entertainment industry), and Ryman Arts, a non-profit dedicated to transforming lives through visual arts.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.

Funny, I don't think of myself as being in advertising. I'm in the storytelling business. If I weren't doing what I do now, I'd probably be running an arts program or school for girls in West Africa.

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

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