News Column

Strong Vincent grad lands on his feet with 'Dancing with the Stars'

July 15, 2013

YellowBrix

July 15--Who will be eliminated on the next episode of "Dancing with the Stars"?

Brad Duns knows the answer before nearly everyone else, even many of his colleagues at work.

As an associate director on ABC's popular TV show, Duns is among the select few entrusted with that highly sought-after secret. For 16 seasons, since June 2005, "Dancing" has featured celebrities and professional dancers teaming up on the dance floor to capture the coveted Mirror Ball Trophy.

"Me and my team usually find out who's going home before a lot of other people on the show because we have to prepare" different aspects of the broadcast, said Duns, 31, a native of Northern California who lived in Erie with his family for four years until he graduated from Strong Vincent High School in 2000.

He began working in the TV industry at age 12 for a TV station in Santa Rosa, Calif. His passion blossomed in high school while participating in the video production program at Strong Vincent. After graduation, he made what his mother, Nancy Duns Vella, believed to be a risky decision. He moved to Los Angeles to find a job instead of accepting a full academic scholarship to Syracuse University to study film and television.

His first job in Los Angeles was not in television, but rather at a boating supply store adjacent to his home -- a 25-foot sailboat he had purchased. Duns met some people who lived at the same dock who were working as television writers. They needed a production assistant for an upcoming show. So in November 2000, a few months after leaving Erie for the West Coast, Duns made his debut on VH1/MTV Networks' live broadcast of "My Music Awards."

"I was very scared because he had such a great opportunity (at Syracuse)," said Vella, who lives in Northern California. "He made a promise that if he didn't make it into the industry within one year that he would go to Syracuse. He was able to make it. He's done so many good things. I'm just so proud of him."

For the past 13 years, he has built a resume that highlights more than 140 projects ranging from "The Doctors" and "Dr. Phil" to "Dancing with the Stars" and Super Bowl halftime shows.

"I've done a lot of different shows," said Duns, a married father of two who served as production supervisor, script supervisor and production assistant on shows earlier in his career. "I get the biggest reaction from people for 'Dancing with the Stars.'"

Fans want gossip about their favorite dance teams. He has the inside information they want. But he can't say a word, even while co-workers without that information share their predictions about the next team to face elimination.

"It's tough," Duns said. "I just have to keep my mouth shut and try not to react."

Duns joined "Dancing with the Stars" as a production supervisor for the fifth season in 2007. He was promoted to associate director five seasons later. Along the way, he has worked 70 to 80 hours a week for three months at a time. Then he works on other projects while having three months off from the show.

He has enjoyed a few stints as first associate director, namely as a fill-in on "The Doctors" and "Dr. Phil." He hopes to one day become a director of live music variety shows. "I'm only two chairs away," he said, "and a lot of times I'm only one chair away. So I'm just going to see what happens."

His time on "Dancing with the Stars" has put him in position to reach his goal. "I came up through the show, and I learned the producing side of it and some of the directing side of the show," Duns said. "I really have a great position on the show right now."

VICTOR FERNANDES can be reached at 870-1716 or by e-mail. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/etnfernandes.

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(c)2013 the Erie Times-News (Erie, Pa.)

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