Franois Truffaut on Editing

(From Truffaut by Truffaut, Courtesy Harry N Abrams New York, 1987)

It is Truffaut's discovery of the need to 'mistreat' the film in the cutting room that intrigues me. It is one thing to put the rushes together efficiently. It is quite another to transform the rhythm and form. He was always afraid of boring the audience and perhaps was too severe on some of his films as Yann Dedet suggests, but the willingness to be disrespectful of your own film is a healthy attitude in the edit suite.

I began to get really interested in editing with 'Shoot the Piano Player',1 because it was a pretty special film in which there was a great deal of improvisation. At the end of the shooting, after the first rough cut, it gave the impression of being unusable, because of a too jerky story, especially compared with that of 'The 400 Blows',2 which was simple and in a straight line. I spent several months on the editing of 'Shoot the Piano Player', I came to think of it as passionately interesting work, and for the first time I began to mistreat the film, to knock it about. In that work there was also influence from 'Breathless',3 finished a few months earlier, and whose editing had been quite revolutionary, really free.

In 'Jules et Jim'4 editing likewise plays an important part because there were many improvised scenes that could be placed here or there; I had thought up many short skits for the chalet scenes, and with the script girl we classified them as scenes of happiness, scenes of unhappiness. The editing of 'Jules et Jim' consisted in finding a kind of equilibrium; will this bit of film go better after a scene of happiness or after a scene of unhappiness? That was another work, special, exhilarating.5

I get to understand certain things only at the editing table: in 'Day for Night'6 e.g., important decisions were made rather late. So when you see Jean-Pierre Leaud firing several shots one after the other at Jean-Pierre Aumont, that came out of the montage because normally there was only one take but here, because we shot the scene six times, I realised we needed this sort of ballet at the end and I mounted all the gunshots one after the other.

Editing is a very creative period because, as a rule, you can't afford to blunder. A film can get ruined in the editing, but generally you do it a lot of good. One of the montages I regret is that of 'Two English Girls'7 because I edited it as if the film had turned out rather well. I did an optimistic montage that I regretted later, because the film

François Truffaut and Jacqueline Bisset during the shooting of 'La Nuit américaine ('Day for Night') (Courtesy of Les Films du Carrosse)

was too long. And I likewise regretted not having been as strict and severe as in other montages: it should have had two more months' work tightening etc.8


1. Shoot the Piano Player - ( Tirez sur le pianiste) - Truffaut, 1960.

2. The 400 Blows (Les Quatre cents coups) - Truffaut, 1959.

3. Breathless (À Bout de souffle) - Jean-Luc Godard, 1959.

4. Jules et Jim- Truffaut, 1961.

5. Interview by Pierre Billard, Cinéma 64 no. 87.

6. Day for Night (La Nuit américaine) - Truffaut, 1973.

7. Two English Girls (Les Deux Anglaises et le Continent) - Truffaut, 1971.

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