Filmmaker from Montgomery County officiates romantic, impromptu Venice wedding

Byby Digital Producer Brock Koller WPVI logo
Wednesday, July 6, 2016
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It reads like a scene straight out of a romantic comedy and funny enough, it stars a filmmaker from Montgomery County.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A couple deeply in love meets an unlikely stranger who orchestrates a wedding on a whim in the most romantic location in the world.

It sounds like the description for the next summer blockbuster. But this is not a Steven Spielberg epic. Nor is it a Nicholas Sparks saga. This tale is not even based on a true story - it is a true story.

It stars Todd Shotz, a native of Elkins Park, Montgomery County and a University of Pennsylvania graduate, who, coincidentally, is a film and television producer.

He has worked on films such as Ghost Team One, Live Free or Die Hard, and Wrestling with Angels. His latest work, Lazy Eye, opens in Philadelphia on Wednesday at the QFlix Film Festival.

But with all the scripts he's written, the videos he's recorded, and the movies he's screened, his greatest production may have just occurred last week in Italy.

Shotz, 42, was in Venice with his family to officiate a Bar Mitzvah for a family from Los Angeles, where he currently lives. It should be noted, besides producing movies and television, the Cheltenham High School grad is also the founder of Hebrew Helpers, a company that mentors Jewish students for their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs.

Last Sunday, the Shotz family toured the Jewish Ghetto of Venice. Once inside the Levantine synagogue, Shotz made his voice heard.

"I proclaimed in my best cantorial voice that the synagogue had excellent acoustics," Shotz wrote on his Facebook page. "As we left this historic site, I struck up a conversation with a lovely couple, Lana and David from the San Francisco area, and they asked me if I ever officiate weddings. 'All the time!' I quickly responded.'"

The couple began to tell Shotz, who is officially ordained to officiate weddings, of their struggles of trying to get married in Venice.

"A second marriage for both and they have felt truly blessed to have met each other three years ago and were eager to start this new chapter. They loved the idea of getting married in Venice, but their emails to the rabbi in Venice received no response," Shotz wrote.

That's when David - the groom - exclaimed, "Let's just do this."

Shotz, without hesitation, said, "Great!"

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Todd Shotz of Elkins Park, Pa. was in the right place at the right time when he agreed to officiate an impromptu wedding in Venice, Italy.
Todd Shotz

"I have been a part of officiating over a dozen weddings. None that were this spur of the moment," Shotz told Action News Tuesday.

The couple and the Shotz family agreed that the impromptu wedding would take place at 9 p.m. that night in the Piazza San Marco. But there was a whole lot of planning to do in just a few short hours.

Lana and David found rings later that afternoon from the island of Murano. Shotz and his family - or as he called them the Shotz Family Wedding Crew - told the couple they would take care of the Jewish traditions that had to be covered including the glass the groom breaks during the ceremony, a ketubah (the marriage agreement), and the wine that the couple drinks.

After Shotz went over the next day's Bar Mitzvah with the family from Los Angeles - there were a lot of moving pieces - everyone involved with the wedding reconvened later that night.

"We go over all the details together. Mom and Dad have picked up some red roses for Lana to hold during the wedding. I found out later that my dad bought out the street vendor of all of his roses for the day," Shotz wrote.

Lana told Shotz she was hoping to get married by the clock tower in the Piazza.

"She wanted to be in the middle of all of the life of the city. We set on a spot and the ceremony began," Shotz wrote.

It was time for Lana and David to be married.

"I was excited to officiate this ceremony in the most romantic city on Earth. I felt a great adrenaline rush once they said they wanted to do this just hours later. We kept pinching ourselves all day that we are actually doing this," Shotz told Action News.

Shotz said vows were exchanged, but not many words were spoken as everyone was overcome with emotion. As he officiated, Shotz made sure to sing as loud as he could over the noise of a very busy Venice square.

"In my concluding words to them, I reminded them that of all the billions of people in the world and all the billions of people who have ever existed and all of the billions that ever will, they have found one another and that is truly lucky," Shotz wrote.

Those who passed by the spontaneous nuptials snapped photos and wished their congratulations to the newly married couple.

Shotz, his family, and the bride and groom then walked over to where music was playing in the square. Shotz's sister suggested it was time for the couple to have their first dance.

"David goes up to the band leader and requests a tango. We then learn that they first met each other in tango class. They begin to dance like we have never seen from ordinary folk. It was like a movie," Shotz said.

While creating a movie is very different than officiating a wedding, Shotz takes great pride in his productions - on screen and off.

"This is the most important day in this couple's journey. As with weddings and Bar/Bat Mitzvah services, there are so many details to handle and anticipate in making a film. All of these 'productions,' I find incredibly fulfilling to be a part of," Shotz told Action News.

Before the happy Mr. and Mrs. went on their way, Lana insisted that Shotz and his family celebrate with dinner. After eating, the newlyweds then got on a boat and sailed away.

"As their boat pulls away from the dock, my mom tells me that they weren't planning to stay that day in Venice. Their original plans were to leave the day before, but Lana insisted she couldn't leave Venice without seeing the Jewish ghetto. They had to go to great lengths to secure another night in a hotel," Shotz wrote.

Shotz tells Action News he has spoken to the couple numerous times through email and Facebook and is looking forward to attending their upcoming celebration in California with their family and friends.

The Penn grad doesn't think he'll be starting a business for mobile, flash-mob weddings like his family produced in Venice, but he is ready to officiate many more weddings in the future.

Perhaps one of them might be made into a movie.