Very few moviegoers got to see writer-director Debra Granik’s first feature, the 2004 drama “Down to the Bone,” because beyond the festival circuit, it only got theatrical releases in New York and Los Angeles. The same was not true of her second, the gritty 2011 film “Winter’s Bone,” which earned Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence) and Best Supporting Actor (John Hawkes).

Her newest, another drama that, like the first two, looks at people living on the fringes of society, is “Leave No Trace.” Adapted from Peter Rock’s 2009 novel “My Abandonment,” it’s the story of Will (Ben Foster) and his 13-year-old daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) who, since a family tragedy, have been living off the grid in various forest settings in the Pacific Northwest. The story picks up shortly before they’re discovered by authorities, and follows their attempts (or non-attempts) to mix in.

Granik, 55, started making documentaries while still a student at Brandeis. After graduating she stayed in non-fiction — often focusing on health and safety — before switching to narrative filmmaking. She recently returned to her hometown of Cambridge, Massachusetts, to chat about the film and her career.

Q: What led to you do graduate work at NYU and make the jump into dramatic film?
A: When I worked for the Massachusetts Department of Health and Safety (now called the Department of Public Health), making films about, for instance, people at the Postal Service, all they wanted me to submit was the cut and dry. But I became interested in what the lives of these people were like after work. So, I found myself attracted to the idea of blending. What would happen if you blend very realistic documentation of someone, but you allow the plot to unfold, maybe stemming from a story they told you? To get that story you’d have to recreate it, you’d have to perform fiction. So, I wanted to know how to marry those two things.

Q: Do you recall the moment you found out that “Winter’s Bone” got all of those nominations?
A: I think I was dropping my kid off at school. I felt my phone rumble, I looked at a text at the stoplight, and this wonderful person from Roadside Attractions, who was championing the film, had texted, “You may not believe this, but ...” Now, he’s a joking kind of person, and I said, “Oh, this is just a funny prank.” I put the phone away and just continued with my tasks and chores. But I believed it a little while later after a bunch of people called.

Q: How did the book “My Abandonment” find its way to you?
A: (Producers) Linda Reisman and Anne Harrison loved the book. Linda cultivated a rapport with the author, she liked what she saw with “Winter’s Bone,” and thought maybe the book and me would be a good combination. I didn’t know her, but she got the book to me and asked me to read it. I think she thought some of the grittiness of “Winter’s bone” would be a good aesthetic or a jumping off point. and I agreed with that.

Q: You and your writing partner Anne Rosellini adapted both “Winter’s Bone” and this one. What’s the process you go through?
A: First we do a very literal lifting, we convert the novel into script form, and then as we start to do research, we have to figure out what doesn’t fit and what did we really find? We went looking for X but we found Y. How do we now bring Y in? That happened with both adaptations. Also, for “Winter’s Bone” we went to southern Missouri (where the story takes place). In this one we went to Forest Park in Portland, Oregon. We asked people there to fact check the book. We talked to detectives that dealt with teens and unhoused people. We talked with rangers. I’m not a social worker and I’m not from Portland. So, the research was imperative for a realistic work.

Q: Can you say something about casting Ben and Thomasin?
A: Ben’s character in the book is very terse. He speaks in coded ways, and at one point quotes Thoreau. I think that really appealed to Ben, the idea of the terseness and having to communicate things through his eyes. His character is someone who has hyper-vigilance. He’s constantly looking everywhere because he knows that they’re living in a non-sanctioned way. I think Ben was drawn to the idea that it would be a very internal role. Thomasin is from New Zealand. She auditioned, she sent in a tape, and then she did some additional improvs that were fabulous. She was extremely eager and full of a kind of verve that was irresistible. I loved her improvs, then a really long Skype allowed me to know that she was down for the part.

Q: You’ve been quoted as saying you’d like to make a film based on the Russell Banks novel “Rule of the Bone.” Is that still on?
A: I love his storytelling, and I would like to do it. He’s someone that has this huge heart for scrappy American survivors, and those are the same characters I’m attracted to.

— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at esymkus@rcn.com.