ASPEN - Robyn Myler's experience in the film business goes back a long way. At 15, she was the receptionist for her father's company, which owned an extensive chain of movie theaters in the New York area.
Later in her teens, she was the "popcorn counter," a position that entails managing the concessions for the theaters. Myler's brother, Marc Smerling, is a filmmaker whose credits include the award-winning documentary "Capturing the Friedmans" and the current reality thriller "Catfish."
That background might be an asset to Myler in her new job. But it has little to do with why she was hired as the new executive director of Aspen Film, filling a position that had been empty for half a year. According to Pete Louras, the president of Aspen Film's board of directors, what the organization needs is leadership, organizational skills and business acumen - traits Myler picked up more in her career as a lawyer, not from her film connections.
"We didn't feel we needed to go to Hollywood and bring in someone with unbelievable experience in production," Louras, who became president of Aspen Film's board in December, said. "It was looking at Aspen Film as a business - building a staff, raising money, maintaining the structure."
The structure of Aspen Film has been in flux recently. Last spring, Laura Thielen, who had been the executive director of the nonprofit since the mid-'90s, was moved into the position of artistic director, a shift that would allow her to focus on film matters rather than organizational ones. Natalie McMenemy was made managing director, meaning there were two people leading Aspen Film. It was a model that didn't work, Louras acknowledged. In addition to the shuffling at the top, there has been much turnover in the staff. Revenues had dropped over the last few years.
Those are matters Myler feels she is capable of correcting. After her teenage years in the theater business and undergraduate work at Emory University, she earned a law degree from the Cardozo School of Law in New York City. She put in seven years with a big New York firm, then moved to Aspen to do general litigation in a small operation. She then joined her husband, Dave Myler, in Basalt's Myler Law Firm, where her practice shifted to real estate.
Myler didn't have great affection for the legal side. But she did enjoy managing the staff and finances of the business, and expects to focus on those aspects of Aspen Film.
"Leadership. Board experience. Organization. Development experience," Myler, a 50-year-old Carbondale resident, said, listing the qualities she thinks Aspen Film's board was looking for in its search for an executive director. "Like all nonprofits, financial stress has been placed on Aspen Film. I'm here to relieve that stress - adding to their revenues, making it more efficient."
Myler's resume in the nonprofit sector include three years on the board of the Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork, and serving on the Aspen/Snowmass Council for the Arts.
This past weekend, Aspen Film wrapped its 32nd annual Aspen Filmfest. The festival was short on the special programs that have been featured in the past; there was no presentation of the Independent by Nature Award, an honor in past years that was given, in a live ceremony, to the likes of Michael Douglas, Rob Reiner and Sydney Pollack. But Louras said attendance was strong, and that membership, a key source of revenue, was on the rebound.
"The good news is Aspen Film has a pretty comfortable level of financial reserves out aside in its 30 years," Louras, who retired from a job as an executive with the Clorox bleach company five years ago, said.
Despite any organizational weaknesses, the cinematic program was solid, with screenings of "127 Hours," the new film by "Slumdog Millionaire" director Danny Boyle; "The King's Speech," which is already being touted as an Oscar contender; several documentaries that are earning acclaim on the festival circuit; and films from France, Thailand, Tibet and the Czech Republic.
With Thielen, and George Eldred, Aspen Film's program director, Louras said the nonprofit didn't necessarily need someone on the artistic side.
"I thought if you bring in someone too steeped in film, there's a fear they would step on Laura and George," he said. "Bringing in an artist to manage another artist - I don't know if that's such a good idea."