Out of more than 1,000 students awarded federal work-study funds, around 500 of them who…
Whitney Gelnett, alumna, lands job at ‘Two and a Half Men’
Whitney Gelnett had no intentions of waiting around for a career to find her. Instead, Gelnett, a 2010 Webster University graduate, drove her 1999 Ford Taurus 1,900 miles to Los Angeles, Calif., to find it herself. Only a few months after her arrival, she landed a full time position on the set of Warner Brothers’ “Two and a Half Men”.
Gelnett worked in St. Louis for months before saving up enough money to hit the road and in February 2011 searched the City of Angels for job opportunities. She stayed with her aunt and uncle who have a permanent residence there until she could find a stable job to pay for her own place. Once she did get a good job, she got herself a one-bedroom apartment. Gelnett knew she had to try LA if she wanted to make a career in the film industry.
“I didn’t want to live with regret,” Gelnett said. “I figured I’d go fresh out of school while I was motivated and see if it was for me.”
After living in California for only four months, Gelnett had a job on a hit television show. Another Webster alumnus and friend of Gelnett informed her about a posting for a full-time office production assistant (PA) position. The information was unspecific and didn’t state what show it was for, but Gelnett applied anyway. She went through a rigorous four-part interview process in two weeks and started her first day on July 11, 2011.
As an office PA, Gelnett works 12-to-14 hour days sometimes. She takes phone calls, makes copies, delivers scripts to executives and actors and orders supplies. Sometimes, she even has to give actors, such as Ryan Stiles from “Who’s Line Is It Anyway?,” rides in her own car. Stiles happens to be her favorite passenger.
“(Whitney) was saying how that day she was seeing how much Ashton Kutcher’s shoes cost, and they were $5,000 a pair,” Tyler DePerro said when he visited Gelnett in LA over the summer.
Gelnett got this position in a time of transition for “Two and a Half Men,” as Charlie Sheen was removed from the cast and replaced with Ashton Kutcher. This will be the first of the show’s nine seasons without Sheen. While no one is really sure how the show will be received in this new season, which airs Sept. 19, Gelnett is optimistic because the show’s live audience has been responding well.
“In a way (Kutcher) has big shoes to fill, but at the same time anything he does is going to look better than what Charlie did,” Gelnett said. “(Sheen’s) name is kind of like Voldemort in the office… he really is he-who-must-not-be-named. They take down pictures of him and don’t talk about it.”
Gelnett never did get to meet Sheen, but she does get to hang out with Kutcher.
“Kutcher brings a fun and kind atmosphere to the set. He’s very sweet and giving, and incredibly smart in contrast to what some may think about him based on previous roles like Kelso in ‘That 70’s Show’, ” Gelnett said. “He’ll throw parties in his trailer and invite everyone to come and hang out. He’ll also bring cases of popchips, a potato chip company he owns, and give them to the crew.”
Because this is the first season the show will air without Sheen, no one knows what to expect. Audiences are unsure how the show will come together with such a new twist. Cast and crew are unsure of how the audience will receive the show this season. But one thing is certain — many are eager to find out how it will turn out. Jorge Oliver, Gelnett’s academic advisor throughout her years at Webster and chair of the electronic and photographic media department, thinks that Kutcher will bring more of an appeal to the show than Sheen did, and he’ll also bring more of an audience because of his large fan base.
Gelnett’s new position is full-time with a salary and benefits. She is contracted a guaranteed position on the show for as long as the show is aired. The show is ensured 13 episodes and once those episodes have gotten good ratings, the network will take on the rest of the season with a total of 23 episodes. Employees stay confident, but there’s always bigger sense of relief when they know for sure they can finish out a season.
“It’s kind of scary because I don’t know if I have work until January or until May of next year,” Gelnett said.
Before receiving a position with “Two and a Half Men,” Gelnett worked as a set production assistant on a couple other shows like “Through the Wormhole” a show on the science channel narrated by Morgan Freeman, and “The Fresh Beat Band” on Nickelodeon. These were fill in positions for only a week or so and helped boost a resume, Gelnett said. Jobs like these prepared her for the full time position as an office PA.
Gelnett had to make some big sacrifices when moving to LA. Because she said her job is very demanding and time consuming, she loses the opportunity to work on her own projects compared to the past. She had to leave behind her family, friends and her boyfriend, Patrick, who she met at Webster and has dated for over two years. Patrick is planning to follow her out and move to LA too, Gelnett said. But moving away was in the best interest for her goals and enhances her ability to do what she loves most.
“Right now I’ve really got to put my nose to the grindstone and be a workaholic so I can move up,” Gelnett said.
Going to LA was not a spur of the moment impulse for Gelnett. It was something she planned on doing since her freshman year at Webster, and the steps she took academically were all geared toward that move and the opportunities it would provide. In her college career, Gelnett minored in Spanish to prepare for the southern California culture and played basketball for two years. Gelnett also studied abroad in Argentina in a cultural immersion program and she became general manager for Webster’s Gorlok TV (GTV) her sophomore year. In addition to these extracurricular activities, she kept up with her school work and production courses as well as produced her own features. Gelnett even visited other Webster alumni who moved to LA and made it in the business. She sought their advice on how to succeed in such a highly competitive environment. Those connections eventually became friends and helpful networks in finding jobs.
“It’s what I’ve always told students, ‘You have to be in the right place at the right time, and you also have to know the right people,’” Oliver said.
When Gelnett arrived to Webster, she was looking for something to enhance her skills and allow her to be creative and make her own projects. She learned about a student-run group called GTV, but at the time the club had gone to the wayside. Gelnett took it upon herself to build the club and make it something enjoyable for students to participate in as well as functional and organized. The group that ran it before her had left with a bed reputation among Webster administrators. They hadn’t run the club in an effective or professional manner and weren’t dedicated to the job. It was difficult to take them seriously. Gelnett had to have a lot of meetings over the years with the dean to create a better status and to create a budget to update equipment for film and video students.
“She needed some guidance and she wasn’t getting it in the places she was looking, so she came to me and it just so happened that the moment I met her I completely respected her work ethic, her vision, and her ability to be adaptable,” video professor Aaron Aubuchon said.
Gelnett also organized GTV in a way that attracted student attention and made them want to participate. She advertised the group as something fun and creative and allowed students to take advantage of equipment and learn from one another. Students had a good time pitching show ideas and creating them as a team. The message got out by word of mouth.
“You knew she was passionate about GTV so it made us equally as passionate,” DePerro said. “We worked our hardest.”
Passion and love for what you do is most important in being successful and Gelnett had that as well as being hyper-organized, a people person, smart, creative and willing to learn, said AuBuchon.
“Two and a Half Men” may have lost Sheen, but they gained Gelnett to their production and, like Sheen, she’s winning too.