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Bill Forsyth


Bill Forsyth
(Born 1946)

Film-maker

Glasgow-born film director who first came to public notice in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s with That Sinking Feeling and Gregory’s Girl, a teenage comedy romance. Local Hero, starring Burt Lancaster, established his name internationally. A stay in the US failed to live up to his expectations, and he ultimately returned to the UK.

Bill Forsyth was born in Whiteinch, Glasgow, 1946, the son of a plumber. He left school at 16 and entered the film industry by chance, answering an ad in the Evening Citizen and becoming an assistant to Stanley Russell of Thames and Clyde Film. He spent three months at the National Film and Television School before quitting to go back to film production. With fellow Scot Charles Gormley, Forsyth started Tree Films, a small feature film and documentary production company. In 1977 he began working with the Glasgow Youth Theatre, and wrote the script for "Gregory's Girl" with the Youth Theatre members in mind. When he couldn't find funding for that project, he wrote "That Sinking Feeling", another showcase for the young actors, but with a much smaller budget. The success of that film in 1979 enabled him to get "Gregory's Girl" off the ground. Forsyth received the British Academy Award for Best Screenplay for that film. In 1983, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Glasgow.

Forsyth's perspective:

"I think that Glaswegian humour is very similar to New York humour, which is really Jewish humour for it is the humour of despair, the humour of the gallows. The humour of awful circumstances or predicaments. I think that is where humour comes from. From situations where the only way out is to laugh, for survival's sake. At the bottom of every joke is a piece of despair, you can't produce a laugh without it. If someone falls on a banana skin you get a laugh, but someone gets hurt."

"There's always something you want to say. I would not want to make a film that did not say anything, I'm not interested in getting into something that's just a piece of entertainment, a James Bond or an adventure film. I don't enjoy filming that much, in fact I don't enjoy filming at all and to go through all that for the sake of money would just not interest me."

"I'm only a writer because at a certain stage in the making of a film you have to write. I'm only a writer in the sense that it's part of making a film nowadays. Even with Gregory's Girl I asked a number of writers, and for various reasons they said no, so I had to write it myself. And so that is how I got into writing.... If you don't think about it, it's not difficult. Like everything else, if you think about it too much, you fall off. I've just learnt one thing, you get to know yourself and how you work. I know I'm very lazy and if I push myself I don't get anywhere. I've just got to take time, and so I spend a lot of time not doing anything. I delude myself into thinking I'm not working and that makes me happy because I know things are happening in my brain and I spend about six months not writing -- taking notes, thinking things and just structuring things on bits of paper, not actually sitting down and writing. I think that's the secret, not sitting down at the typewriter too early."

"I think we're basically all odd. I think we all have a tension between what we think we are and what other people think we are. Everyone is like that and I just tend to highlight it. I think I could make a detective story, or something conventional like that, and end up having odd characters in it too. Strangeness is in everyone, it's just a matter of whether you choose to reveal it or not."
"It would be impossible to make films in Scotland without thermal underwear."