As a critic who reviews a lot of low budget independent films, there have been a large number of common mistakes I see within these smaller productions. I feel bad anytime I write negative things about these films because I know these are passionate people working with some very hefty budget constraints. With that in mind I thought I'd write up some quick film-making tips from a critic's perspective in hopes that before any budding Felinis submit their work for review they can ensure not to get eviscerated by someone not as forgiving as myself. Most of these tips may appear obvious, but I often encounter films that seem to forget the fundamentals.
1. Keep filming anything and everything
Make tons of no-budget short films and hone your craft. Show your family and friends and get feedback but don’t jump the gun with festival or critic submissions.
2. Form a respectable script
Don't just make a generic story about a relationship gone sour or a killer hunting young adults in the woods. There are thousands of movies released every year, make sure yours pops. Also, avoid found footage at all cost. It's a tired device that has overstayed its welcome and needs to end.
3. Don't rely on your crew (if you have one) to make lighting, sound, and cinematography decisions
This is your film, make sure everything is up to snuff. Bad lighting, sound, and cinematography can kill your movie so if you have people working on these things, make sure they know what they're doing.
4. If your friends aren't actors don't hire your friends as actors
Sure, it's great to get your friends involved with your film, but if they can't act don't cast them as the lead. Instead, have them be waitress #2 or man reading paper at bus stop. If you pull in talent from a local theater, make sure they aren't acting like they're on a stage. Stage acting is different than film acting and when that transition hasn't been made the results can be brutal.
5. Put your money where your heart is
If you're truly passionate about your film, then do whatever you can (within the law) to set a budget that can make it happen. If you don't have enough money to make it how you want, then wait till you do. Crowd funding sources like Kickstarter are a great resource to not only gather money, but also gauge interest on your project. Creating a proper Kickstarter page can be an entire article on its own, but after speaking with dozens of filmmakers that had successful Kickstarter campaigns I can tell you it works.
If you went the crowd funding route and still don't have enough, put it on a credit card, ask family and friends for contributions, seek out investors, sell a kidney, just don't make the movie without the money needed.
Imagine if Alfonso Cuaron only had $50 and his mom's Kodak Easyshare to shoot "Gravity." It probably wouldn't look as jaw dropping on those big IMAX screens. While this is an extreme example, you get the picture. If you're not willing to put everything you have into the project, then maybe you should rethink making it.
If you believe you followed all these items and your movie still got rejected from Sundance then try a smaller festival. Try ALL the smaller festivals until one bites. Then submit your movie to critics and don't dismiss them if they give you a bad review. Most decent critics will be constructive in their thoughts, so look at it as a learning tool rather than a personal attack. Criticism can be rough and it can hurt, but if you really want to be a movie maker, then it's something you'll need to get used to.