Just got back from a jammed packed three days of meeting with decision makers (commissioning editors and acquisitions) to talk about our two documentary projects: Slum Girl Soccer (Goals for Girls) and Man vs. Meteorite. There were over 20 reps from TV channels and funding organizations from all over the world and about 100 local and international filmmakers with doc projects at DocBsAs 2009. Response was very positive, and we came out of it with 5 meetings for the next month! We´re timing the release of Slum Girl Soccer with the Womens´ Soccer World Cup in June 2011, which adds to the appeal, and everyone loved the strong characters that we are following. Also, what surprised me is that a lot of the more commercial channels were very interested, not just the art house ones.
So what are doc buyers looking for? The same thing that is prized in fiction storytelling: strong characters, story arch that has a clear conflict, and about a topic that has an interest for the audience (for example, Finnish audiences love tango while it is not so popular in Spain). If it is about a country or custom not well-known outside of that place, it needs to be well explained. Also, a lot of buyers are attracted to humorous stories.
We also met a lot of great local filmmakers who are interested in working together on future projects, which was a great bonus.