Lest anyone doubt that fan/celebrity conventions are waxing strong, they need only consider the case of Roy Wooley. A special-effects and make-up specialist, as well as a fan-favorite contestant on the SyFy channel reality show/competition Face Off (seasons three and five), Wooley has appeared at 16 different fan conventions this year alone, with another 12 upcoming on his schedule before 2015.
He also knows both sides of the convention experience, having come up as a self-described "horror and sci-fi geek" in rural Alabama. "I used to attend them myself—I loved Dragon Con in Atlanta," says Wooley, the son of a preacher who went terribly wrong somewhere along the way. "I attended for a lot of things. But one thing is that you develop friends you only see at conventions. I have friends even now that I would only see at Dragon Con. It's an opportunity to hang out with like-minded people."
A Star Trek and Babylon 5 fanatic as a youngster, Wooley, 47, got his break in the business relatively late in the game, when he moved to Georgia in 1998 and found a job with the Netherworld Haunted House in Atlanta. A seasonal walk-through haunted-house attraction, Netherworld has won awards for its scares, garnering recognition for its high-level special effects, make-up and stunt work.
He's been with Netherworld ever since, and his fan appeal is based almost as much on his work there as his stints on Face Off. Wooley also has a handful of movie and TV credits to his name, including Zombieland and the 2009 version of Halloween II.
"I get a lot of ‘Are you looking for an intern?'" he says. "My best advice is always to do what I did, which was to go get a job at a haunted house or somewhere like that and hone your skills. My entry into the business really wasn't even planned."
The concept behind Face Off is to bring together a handful of prosthetic make-up artists to compete in a series of challenges—design an original superhero character, for instance, or model a custom alien for a Star Wars movie scene. Wooley's weird fright masks and make-up expertise were well-received by fans and critics on season three in fall of 2012, though he failed to win that year. He was brought back for season five in '13, however, and earned runner-up recognition.
In photos and in conversation, he comes off a lot like what he really is—a 'bama boy done good, with an authentic aw-shucks demeanor and a fondness for wearing cowboy hats. And he likes meeting fans—though occasionally, he says, celebrity can be awkward. "It's odd, because people who saw me on Face Off sometimes think they know me," he laughs. "They walk up and start talking, and I'm like, ‘And you are…?' The other side is that some people get really nervous and start shaking. And it's like, ‘Why would you do that?'"
His favorite part of the convention experience, as a celebrity guest, is the opportunity to perform workshops at a few of the shows. "I like being able to teach people," he says. "And going to conventions, it's like a moving classroom."
As to the phenomenon itself, he offers this: "The number of conventions around the country is definitely on the upswing. Many of the ones I've done in the last year are first-year cons. And that's good, because I think it gives people in smaller towns a chance to see some of these people they enjoy.
"And most of the fans you meet at these shows are great people. I haven't found one yet I wouldn't come back to."