William David Forsyth was born on 29 July 1946 in Glasgow, Scotland. After leaving Knightswood School at the age of 17, he spent eight years making short documentary films.
Forsyth first came to attention with a low-budget film, That Sinking Feeling, made with youth theatre actors and featuring a cameo appearance by the Edinburgh gallery owner Richard Demarco. The relative success of the film was carried to a far higher level by his next film Gregory's Girl in 1981. This featured some of the same young actors, in particular John Gordon Sinclair, as well as the acting debut of Clare Grogan. The film was a major hit and won 'Best Screenplay' in that year's BAFTA Awards. In 1983 he wrote and directed the successful Local Hero, produced by David Puttnam, and featuring Burt Lancaster. It was rated in the top 100 films of the 1980s in a Premiere magazine recap of the decade. Forsyth's next film was the 1984 Comfort and Joy, about a Glasgow radio DJ caught in a rivalry between ice cream companies, which again featured Clare Grogan.
Bill Forsyth was a favoured director of Sir David Puttnam during Puttnam's term as Columbia Studios chairman. Columbia released the film Being Human (1994) directed by Bill Forsyth, starring Robin Williams and featuring John Turturro. The film was about a man developing throughout his life and had scenes from pre-history, Ancient Rome, 16th-century Spanish conquistadors and modern day New York City. The film was not released fully due to bad reviews. After this experience Bill Forsyth was put off making films.
In 1999 he made Gregory's Two Girls as a sequel to Gregory's Girl, with John Gordon Sinclair playing the same character, but it received mixed reviews.