Blazing a Trail

Sandra Greaves 

Book trailers are increasingly important marketing tools for authors. So how do you go about making one? Sam Hepburn chose 15-year-old film student George O’Regan to create the trailer for her latest YA crime novel, Chasing the Dark. Sandra Greaves talks to them both about the fine art of trailer-making. 

‘Publishers really like trailers,’ says Sam Hepburn (who also writes as Sam Osman). ‘And if you go into schools and talk to reluctant boy readers, having a video really helps.’ That’s especially true if the video happens to be made by a teenage boy. Sam and George now even get asked to do double-act talks on the book and the trailer together.

The collaboration began out of pure chance. ‘The front cover of my book has a picture of a running boy on it, and by coincidence he’s the double of my son, Murdo,’ says Sam. ‘Murdo had a friend, George, who was at school with him but who’s now at the Brit School studying film, and they said they’d make me a trailer using my son as the running boy, and George doing the filming.’ 

It helped that Sam has a television background as both director and executive producer – there’s not much she doesn’t know about film-making. So why didn’t she make her trailer herself? 

‘I’m old school,’ she laughs. ‘I don’t shoot myself – I’m used to having a crew and telling them what to do. I’m not technical at all. So I was really pleased that they wanted to do it because I wanted something that appealed to people of their age.’ 

The process 

Sam wrote the script and then she and George discussed the shape of the film together, with George making minor changes of his own. ‘I didn’t want to tell the story,’ said Sam. ‘That’s where a lot of people fall down. You want to get a sense of the tone, enough to draw people in.’ 

‘Sam was great,’ says George, ‘easy to work with and not too formal. We talked a lot about what she was looking for, and she’s very good at getting ideas across.’ 

Sam chose to be there throughout the two nights of filming too, though motherly fears may have played a role there. ‘I took them down to the mean streets of Raynes Park because I didn’t think it was a good idea to have them wandering round London with camera equipment on their own at night,’ she says. 

Despite being made on a shoestring, the film is technically innovative, with high production values. The moving shots were achieved by a technique invented by George on the day, using longboards – a longer version of a skateboard. ‘I’d decided I wanted to be able to follow Murdo running but without loads of equipment,’ says George. ‘Just before filming I thought, “Why don’t I jump on my longboard?”

George and another friend, Luke, took it in turns to ride the board with the camera while the other steered. ‘We added “walk stabiliser” afterwards,’ says George. ‘I was really chuffed with the effect.’ 

Other impressive effects in the trailer turn out to be surprisingly low-tech. ‘There’s a shot of bright lights with words underneath and George literally did that by waving a torch around at night in the garden,’ says Sam. The film also includes still images Sam had collected for research in the course of writing the book. ‘It’s a very layered piece of work,’ she says. 

Finally the voiceover was done by George himself – he’d originally intended to use an actor, but Sam liked the raw tone of his guide track so much that she decided to keep it. 

‘He edited it all really well,’ she says. ‘He treated me like a client – he sent me rough cuts and we discussed the shots, and he did a very professional job. I was impressed by the way he worked.’ 

Sam and George’s trailer-making top tips:

1. Don’t tell the story - go for atmosphere. 

2. Make it a bit different from everyone else’s. 

3. Don’t aim for a mini-drama and don’t show the face of the protagonist. ‘The reader has an idea of what the protagonist should look like and it’s not the same for everyone,’ says George. 

4. Be as clear as you can and do a storyboard so you won’t be disappointed. 

5. Try to get really high production values. 

6. Do a recce beforehand. 

7. Prepare everything in advance, from parking spaces to luggage, and ask people’s permission (for example if shooting in front of someone’s shop) 

8. Bring lots of carbohydrates! ‘It’s amazing how everyone’s blood sugar goes down,’ says Sam. ‘In two hours, everyone’s starving. Kids especially are going to get tired and ratty.’ 

9. Split the tracks so you don’t mix sound and music. ‘If you get a foreign deal, you can just hand them the trailer and get them to revoice it,’ says Sam. 

10. Be nice! ‘Don’t force your ideas on directors,’ says George. ‘Sam had her ideas but she let me make my own interpretation of them. She was there for the filming, but the shots were down to me.’

Chasing the Dark, published by Chicken House, is a crime mystery about a 14-year-old boy who turns detective when his mother is killed in a car crash. Click here to watch Sam’s video. For more background on how the film was shot, take a look at George’s behind-the-scenes footage from around 1:35 here

Sandra Greaves’s trailer for her Dartmoor-based ghost story The Skull in the Wood was made by a friend, TV and film director Ita FitzGerald. 

Ita’s top tip is: ‘Don't try and tell your story, just create a mood. It’s like a moving front cover - something that invites you in. Don't try to be literal. A challenge for authors, perhaps, having spent so long getting every word right.’

Watch Sandra's trailer here

Contact a director:

George O’Regan can be contacted on (available in the summer holidays)

Ita FitzGerald can be contacted on


  1. Both trailers do a great job of selling the books, they're so atmospheric - I'd like them to be longer, but then that's the point - to get more, you have to read the book!
    Very useful article, Sandra, thank you.

  2. Great advice, Sandra, and so useful to see George's PoV alongside the trailer. Clears the mists behind the techno-wizardry (or does that show my age?) Thanks very much to all contributors.

  3. Great trailers - love the editing!


We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.