16.6. Morning Discussion With Bill Forsyth

Glaswegian director Bill Forsyth stated straight away that as a child he was not particularly interested in cinema. Forsyth’s father took him to his first movie when he was five years old. ”I don’t remember the movie at all. It was some ridiculous slapstick, black and white. I thought that that is not for me.”

Forsyth planned a career as a journalist, but as a student he discovered that he was not an academic person. He tried out all sorts of jobs, such as selling cleaning supplies to housewives door-to-door, and first entered the film industry as a production assistant by chance via a job advertisement in a newspaper. The idea of making his own movies festered in his mind for a long time. At one point Forsyth had a job photographing soccer matches and he noticed that he was saving all the unused film. ”It became like an obsession to me, gathering that film. It was a treasure.”

From the very beginning of his professional career, Forsyth has always been interested in the language of cinema – in how all the various elements come together to form something that can be called a film. His debut, The Language, combining sound and mostly black images, concentrated on this very problem of cinematic expression.

What fascinates the Scottish director most in filmmaking is the writing process, because at that stage everything is still possible. What he enjoys least is the actual filming. ”The camera limits everything. When you shoot the scene that you have written, you are killing it. Up until that point it could have been anything, but everything that an actor does is there and it can not be anything else.”

Forsyth has worked with world-famous stars such as Robin Williams (Being Human, 1994) and Burt Reynolds (Breaking In, 1989). As a shy person himself, Forsyth thinks that directing requires most of all understanding the actors’ craft and being on the same wavelength with them. ”Burt Reynolds was very aware that he had to be convincing as a character actor and demanded all the help he could get. He did not want to be Burt Reynolds, he wanted to be an actor.” Forsyth reveals that he has some regrets concerning Being Human, the film he made with Robin Williams. The project turned into a bloated Hollywood production that the director had trouble keeping up with.

Forsyth’s last film – at least for now – is Gregory’s Two Girls from 1999. ”I was actually fairly happy and I had lots of ideas. But the film business kind of changed under my feet. I do not know where my movies would be shown except in Britain – people would not go to a mall to see them. I hate to say it, but the feature movie is fading away, and I do not feel attracted to making movies for television.” However, the director says that during the last ten years new ideas have come up and he has had several projects in development.

As his desert island film Forsyth picks – perhaps somewhat surprisingly – Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le fou. What attracts him in Godard’s film is the airiness of the narrative. Also, he saw it for the first time during a turning point in his life: ”Pierrot le fou kind of opened my eyes. It was a part of my education, and I started to work in the film business two or three months later.”