20 February 2024

Riverina to New York: Aussie producers score big at International Emmy Awards

| Shri Gayathirie Rajen
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two men holding their awards

Producers Daniel Walkington and Jerry Butterfield with their Emmys for their kids’ TV show Built To Survive. Photos: Supplied.

Two independent producers and Riverina television production graduates have gained global recognition after winning the International Emmy Award for their children’s wildlife documentary series.

Daniel Walkington and Jerry Butterfield’s Built To Survive on ABC ME won the Kids: Factual & Entertainment category at the 2023 International Emmys in New York.

Daniel and Jerry told Region winning the Emmy was “exciting and unexpected” as the show’s distributor, the Australian Children’s Television Fund, nominated it without telling them.

“We woke up one morning saying that we’ve been nominated for an Emmy … a fantastic way to wake up,” they said.

“It was a real shock when the nomination came through … and when the win came through, it was one of the ‘pinch yourself’ moments. We were up against some pretty stiff competition.

“With the time difference between Australia and America, it was lunchtime on a Thursday, and we were jumping up and down, ready to crack the champagne. The rest of the office wasn’t quite in the same zone.”

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Jerry said winning the Emmy was gratifying, but he had not expected it.

“We have a high opinion of our abilities but didn’t necessarily expect to win an Emmy,” he said.

“We’re hoping to have a good knock-on effect for the business.”

Daniel said the win showed that Australian independent producers were “kicking goals overseas”.

“Three Australian shows were nominated, and they all won. The industry here is strong but has a huge growth potential,” Daniel said.

“Wins like this are a good argument for supporting Australian homegrown stories, producers and production companies.”

Asked what their plans were after winning the Emmy, Daniel said he had his eye on bigger prizes.

“We’re going to win an Oscar, Grammy and a Tony. Get the complete EGOT [Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Awards],” he said.

“I’ve been taking singing lessons. Hopefully, that’s on the horizon.”

Emmy Award

Built To Survive on ABC ME won the Kids: Factual & Entertainment category at the 2023 International Emmys.

Built To Survive, a 10-part series made for Australian children, follows host Phil Breslin as he draws on the knowledge of science, First Nations peoples and his own experience in the wild to find out how animals have adapted to some of the world’s most extreme and diverse natural habitats.

Daniel was born in Sydney and ended up in Wagga by chance when he learned about the Charles Sturt University (CSU) TV production course.

“It was a bit of a shock coming from the inner city, but it was a great three years down in the Riverina,” he said.

“CSU was such a cool place to study, and the course was amazing … it was leading for its time, allowing people to experiment, trial and learn the craft of making stories.”

Born in England, Jerry moved to Australia in 1995 after marrying his wife from Wagga, completing his television course and gaining lifelong friendships.

Both graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (TV Production) from CSU in 2010 and 2000.

Daniel and Jerry began work immediately after graduation – Dan in the media library at National Geographic and Jerry at Foxtel in Sydney.

Jerry soon obtained a permanent role at National Geographic, while Dan continued his career cutting trailers for documentaries and working on commercials and short stories.

Jerry became the Australian creative director at National Geographic before being offered the same role at its parent company, Fox International. By the time Jerry left this position, he was responsible for all programming, production, marketing and digital content for National Geographic and FX channels.

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Jerry and Daniel established Butter Media in 2018, just in time for COVID-19, along with another colleague, Luke Williams.

Butter Media was the production house and producer of the program, with Jerry serving as the executive producer and Daniel as the series producer.

Growing up watching Australian kids’ television helped Daniel form his opinions about his identity and place in this country and the world.

He said the series resonated with him because of its desire to visit places not always given a lot of attention and to give children a sense of pride in the unique stories, landscapes and wildlife with which we share this country.

Daniel said being recognised internationally was a big win for these Australian independent producers and showcased Australian talent and locations globally.

The duo said national or international success was not limited by where you studied or grew up.

The award win is already garnering opportunities for the duo, who have been asked to speak at a conference in Europe in 2024.

Dan encouraged people to be curious, knock on doors and embrace the ”boring bits and stresses” because the places it could lead to were worth it.

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