PORTLAND, Maine — Having been nominated for a British Academy Award for supervising the visual effects for “Avatar: The Way of Water,” Eric Saindon flew to London in February to attend the ceremony.
The film, which he had spent a decade working on, had been widely praised for its look, and it came as no surprise when Saindon and his team won.
For Saindon, though, there was no walk up to the stage to accept the award, no opportunity to thank the people who’d made it possible, no chance to be part of the glamour of one of the most glittering awards shows of the year. At the last minute, he tested positive for Covid and had to stay away.
A month later, it was time for the Academy Awards, and Saindon, who grew up in Gorham, and has worked in the film industry for more than twenty years, was nominated in the category of Best Visual Effects.
On the day of the Oscars—Sunday, March 12—he was at his hotel in Los Angeles when he began to feel sharp stomach pains, realized they were not to be ignored, and went to a hospital.
Doctors ruled out appendicitis. It might, they said, be a case of kidney stones. Relieved, Saindon sped across town to the Oscars and made it into the Dolby Theatre just minutes before the doors were locked. Better to sit in pain at the Academy Awards, he figured, than to sit in pain in his hotel room watching them.
For two hours he looked on as award after award was handed out until the announcement came for the visual effects category.
“And the Oscar goes to…’Avatar.’” In front of tens of millions of television viewers around the globe, Saindon, looking pale and a bit unsteady, got up to accept his Oscar.
“It was very apparent something was not right,” he recalls. For one thing, his blood pressure had dropped sharply. “I honestly don’t remember walking up to the stage. I don’t remember being on stage.”
Like all Oscar winners, he was whisked backstage after receiving his statuette. It was the greatest moment of his professional life—and he felt wretched.
“All I could think is, ‘If I’m going to throw up on someone, who’s it gonna be?’”
As the other award winners headed out to the swanky post-Oscars parties, the most famous of which are hosted by “Vanity Fair” magazine and Elton John, Saindon rushed to a hospital with a “celebrity emergency room” where he saw an instantly recognizable actor who was trying to remember the fake name he should use when checking in.
Then came another urgent trip, this one to a second, better-equipped hospital where doctors spent six hours operating on what turned out to be a ruptured upper intestine. Had he waited much longer for medical attention, he says, he would have been “in deep trouble.”
Back home in New Zealand where he’s lived for several years, Saindon is now feeling pretty well (he lost 25 pounds after his surgery) and getting back to work on the third “Avatar” film.
Given his track record on all three “Lord of the Rings” and both “Avatar” movies, it’s a pretty good bet there will be more Academy Awards for him in the years ahead.
“Hopefully,” he says with a smile, “Someday I get to go back and enjoy those parties.”