William David Forsyth was born 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.