According to Jean-Pierre Melville, Godard asked him for consultation during the post-production stage because the first edit was too long for distribution. Melville suggested Godard remove all scenes that slowed down the action (his own turn as novelist Parvulesco included). But instead of excluding entire scenes, Godard cut little bits from here and there. This led to the "jump cut" technique this movie introduced. Melville declared the result to be excellent.
Despite reports to the contrary, Jean-Luc Godard did not shoot the film without a script; however, he did not have a finished script at the beginning, instead writing scenes in the morning and filming them that day. See also Pierrot le Fou (1965).
According to Raoul Coutard, some sleight of hand was involved in getting a permit to shoot on the streets of Paris. A complete script was needed to obtain the permit, so Jean-Luc Godard had an assistant type up a mock script for a film that would never be shot.
One day, Jean-Luc Godard called at 8 in the morning to say he was sick from eating some bad food and couldn't work. He had someone on the crew call producer Georges de Beauregard and tell him. Although according to Coutard, it was not a big deal, since cast and crew totaled only about seven or eight people, Beauregard was furious. A short time later, he went to have a drink and saw Godard sitting at the same café having breakfast. Coutard said they got into a fistfight and reporters from Paris Match had to pull them apart.
Jean-Luc Godard and Raoul Coutard found a way to shoot at night without additional lighting by using high-speed (400 ASA) film meant for still photography. Developing it in a special chemical bath doubled the sensitivity without becoming too grainy. Using that film, however, wouldn't have been possible with most movie cameras because the sprocket holes on photo film are different than those on movie film. But it worked with the Cameflex cameras they were using on this production because the claws on those cameras, which pull the film through, only touch the edge of the perforation rather than going all the way through it, eliminating the need for a precise match.
Having made her first few pictures in the classical Hollywood system, Jean Seberg was rattled by Jean-Luc Godard's shooting methods, and there was much tension between them. They also clashed over her character and performance, notably in the scene near the end when Patricia returns to the apartment to tell Michel she has informed on him to the police. According to Raoul Coutard, she and Godard were "at each other's throats" by this point. She wanted to do the scene in an emotional frenzy, whereas he wanted her totally calm and cool. He finally gave in and shot the scene her way, but when it came time to dub it in post, she realized he had been right, so she spoke her lines very low key, which doesn't always match her expressions on screen. Pierre Rissient later said he didn't think Seberg knew what was happening throughout the production and had no idea what kind of film this would be, so she was likely pleasantly surprised at the final product and the success it achieved.
The character of Michel Poiccard uses the name Laszlo Kovacs as an alias. It is often wrongly assumed this was an homage to the cinematographer of the same name: the film was made long before Kovacs established himself in the movie industry. It was actually a reference to the character played by Jean-Paul Belmondo in Claude Chabrol's Leda (1959), earlier the same year.
On the eve of production, Jean-Luc Godard wrote to producer Georges de Beauregard: "The poker game's about to begin. I hope to rake in a heap of dough. I want to thank you for trusting me and apologize in advance for many bad moods over the next months. ... I'm terrified and nervous."
Although the usual method was to shoot the footage with synchronized sound, Jean-Luc Godard would call out to the actors the lines he wanted them to say (generally just written by him, so they had never seen the dialogue prior to shooting) and they would repeat them. Also, the handheld camera they used was so noisy there was no way to record sound on the spot. The lines of dialogue were dubbed later in post-production.
Jean-Luc Godard wanted Patricia to rifle through the dying Belmondo's pockets, but Jean Seberg refused to play the scene that way. Instead it ends with a bit of dialogue whose translation is still sometimes disputed (with Seberg's Patricia asking what "dégueulasse" [disgusting] means and being told by the detective a different version of what Michel likely intended) followed by an iconic close-up of her making the Humphrey Bogart lip-rubbing gesture he uses throughout the film, then turning away from the camera.
Raoul Coutard later said because his background was in photojournalism he already knew how to shoot quickly and efficiently. "I had no reputation and nothing to lose. I wanted to see what would happen."
The inspiration for the story was a newspaper article that François Truffaut read. It was about a small time criminal called Michel Portail and his American girlfriend. In 1952, Portail stole a car to visit his sick mother in Le Havre in the north of France but ended up killing a motorcycle cop.
Jean-Luc Godard had met Jean Seberg through her then-husband, director François Moreuil, and thought she would be someone who could give the film more commercial appeal, having made high-profile appearances in some Hollywood productions, but still be willing to work on a low-budget feature since her American career did not live up to the initial expectations.
A tiny room in the Hotel de Suede was used as the room where Patricia lived. It was so small there was only about eight inches of floor space around the bed. Jean-Luc Godard, Raoul Coutard, and the actors all had to cram into the space, with the focus puller standing on the bed and the script supervisor watching through the door. "It was a relief not to have lights," Coutard later said.
When Patricia and Michel are on the bed, and she is holding the Teddy Bear, the book Michel is reading is 'Photographing The Female Figure' by Bunny Yeager, from 1957. The close-up shots do not come from this book, though; it appears another book was used for these shots.
Much was made at the time of release of Jean-Luc Godard's innovative use of jumpcuts. Actually these were an afterthought. The finished film was 30 minutes too long and rather than cut specific scenes, Godard decided to cut from within each scene, thus creating the jagged style of the film.
Jean-Luc Godard would write the script in the morning of each day of filming without the assistance of the script supervisor. He would write his notes into an exercise book which he would allow only the actors to see.
The original script treatment came from François Truffaut and Claude Chabrol but ultimately neither could agree on a proper story structure. Jean-Luc Godard was still very keen on the treatment (which would form the basis of his debut feature). He was working as a press agent at 20th Century Fox at the time when he met producer Georges de Beauregard and told him that his latest film was shit. De Beauregard was suitably impressed with his forthrightness that he hired Godard to work on the script for his next film "Pecheur d'Islande". After six weeks, Godard had had enough of the screenplay and suggested to de Beauregard that he should make this film instead. Chabrol and Truffaut agreed to give Godard their film treatment which was duly passed on to de Beauregard under the proviso that Godard be allowed to direct it (Truffaut and Chabrol had become established names at this stage).
As well as the real-life Michel Portail, Jean-Luc Godard also based the main character on screenwriter Paul Gégauff, who was known as a swaggering seducer of women. Godard also named several characters after people he had known earlier in his life when he lived in Geneva. The film includes a couple of in-jokes as well: the young woman selling Cahiers du Cinéma on the street (Godard had written for the magazine), and Michel's occasional alias of László Kovács, the Hungarian-American cinematographer who would become famous for Five Easy Pieces (1970) and other films.