No budget? No problem! Here's a few small ways you can make your film look and sound a LOT better than the competition.
Independent filmmakers can (justifiably) complain about the crummy screenwriting, extreme CGI,and hyperactive editing of Hollywood movies, but one thing studios understand is HOW TO GET YOUR ATTENTION. While story really is king, if you have a great story wrapped in a plain paper bag, it's going to get passed over by your average media consumer (or sales agent or distributor) in favor of the more glitzy offering one click away.
Here are some fairly cheap, simple ways to make your film look and sound better than its budget, enough to stand out from the other independent fare out there.
With the exception of horror, which works well in small spaces, many indie films feel too cramped, like plays on camera. Outdoor locations are often free, and while you'll be subject to the vagaries of the weather (and traffic noise), you can give the audience a sense that the story is part of a bigger world.
AVOID WHITE WALLS
Featureless walls (especially white ones) strand the audience visually and practically scream "I shot this in my dorm room." Unless it's part of your design scheme, avoid them. Block the characters somewhere else. Break it up with some posters, paint or some furniture. Keep the light off it.
The titles are the first thing that your audience will see. So think them through. Also, title design can influence your key promo materials - the poster, postcard, website art, and trailer.
GET A BOOM OPERATOR
Lavalieres pick up sound in all directions (which means they're picking up a lot of the environment) and tend to sound a little tinny. Boom mikes pick up a richer sound and can be aimed directly at the actors' mouths. It's a modest expense - since it's a natural step for future sound mixers, you can usually get someone for not a lot of dough.
STABILIZE THE CAMERA
If you're shooting on a small camera, unsteadiness in your arm will be magnified, and not in a "cool shakycam" way. Transfer the weight from your arm to something else to keep your shots steadier. I've improvised monopods from 2x4s and propped the camera on a table. For movement, I rent a mini-glidecam (not expensive). They transfer the weight of the camera to a weighted, spring-loaded pole.
WALK AND TALK
If your film is dialog-driven, give the actors something to do and somewhere to go while they're talking. The early work of Richard Linklater, Hal Hartley, and Jim Jarmusch featured a lot of dialog-heavy scenes, but each kept them visually interesting, by getting the actors to move. Linklater follows the actors as they walk around. Jarmusch locks down the camera but keeps everyone pacing uneasily. Hartley uses depth a lot - characters move between foreground and background; or one character (usually the troublemaker) circles around the others.