As a seasoned TV and film producer, Jamie Zelermyer knows a good story when she hears one. She loves to delight the senses of viewers through sight and sound. In 2019, however, she began working on a podcast with her mom, Karen, weaving together the pieces of a cultural movement of the 1970s, with a true crime missing person’s case, and a deeply personal narrative of her own upbringing in West Virginia.
The podcast, I Was Never There, tells the story of Marsha Mudd Ferber’s disappearance. Marsha, a larger-than-life character, was a close friend of Karen’s and a mother figure to Jamie.
As co-creators and co-narrators, Jamie and Karen threw themselves into the creative process together. Jamie shares her thoughts about having this time with her mom and how it afforded each of them the opportunity to reflect on some complicated moments from Jamie’s childhood. The experience provided Jamie with an important reminder that context matters as she reflects on how her mom, who was in her early 20s when she had children, was in the midst of figuring out who she was and wanted to be – a very different perspective on motherhood and decision-making from Jamie’s, who became a mom in her mid-30s.
Jamie was determined to shine an authentic light on the Back to the Land movement of the 1970s that defined her earliest childhood memories. This period was about a lot more than long-haired, bell-bottom wearing hippies. For Jamie, making the podcast was about the people, like her mom and dad, who decided they weren’t satisfied with the status quo and decided to try something radically different. Jamie tells us about the communal homes they lived in where the responsibilities of child-rearing and cooking were shared. Recreating the mood of this time emphasizing music and sound over visuals was an interesting challenge for Jamie, who is accustomed to the world of film and television.
Jamie tells us about the care they took to tell Marsha’s story as well as the unique challenges associated with making a true crime podcast where many of the people they interviewed were potential witnesses or perpetrators.
While there were some raw truths and moments, Karen loved the project so much, she wants to make another podcast with Jamie! The mother-daughter podcasting duo have been surprised at how much their dynamics and the natural tension between them has resonated with listeners.
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