Born Philippe Claude Alex de Broca de Ferrussac in Paris, the son of a photographer of noble origins. de Broca was a cinephile from an early age, and he studied at the l'École technique de photographie et de cinématographie (ETPC). To carry out his national service, de Broca went to Algeria during the Algerian War where he worked in the French army's film section for three years and saw a side of life which he disliked and wished to view in a different, more eccentric, light. de Broca began his career working as a camera man on several African documentaries, and later as an assistant to some of the most prominent directors of the French nouvelle vague (New Wave) movement in the 50s. He served an apprenticeship with Henri Decoin, became assistant to Claude Chabrol on Le Beau Serge (Handsome Serge) in 1957, and later assisted François Truffaut with Les quatre-cent coups (The 400 Blows).