One of the easiest ways to run out of ideas in a screenplay is to start with a single idea and try to make it last for 120 pages. When screenwriters take a single idea and try to stretch it out into a full-length movie, they usually get about halfway and get stuck.
The reason why it’s so easy to get stuck is that no movie is about a single idea. Instead, divide a movie in half where the first half focuses on an initial idea and the second half reveals the hidden truth behind the initial idea.
Think of “Die Hard” where the initial take over by the terrorists appears to be nothing more than a bunch of well-armed people holding people hostage. However, the real story is that the terrorists want to break into a vault to steal corporate bonds and then blow up the hostages on the roof to create a distraction so they can escape.
That’s a whole lot different than the initial idea of terrorists taking over a skyscraper and holding people hostage, but it’s the hidden story behind the initial story.
Every screenplay needs this hidden story behind the initial story. That’s what will allow you to start and complete a 120-page screenplay.
There’s a movie called “Palm Springs” that uses the same time loop idea as “Groundhog Day” where a guy finds himself trapped in reliving the same day over and over again. Then he accidentally gets a girl trapped in the same time loop and the two of them must now spend eternity together where they actually fall in love.
That’s the halfway point but then the story twists because the girl wants to find a way out of the time loop and the boy does not. When the girl finally finds a way out of the time loop, the boy is hesitant to leave, but he also doesn’t want to lose the girl forever.
That simple twist ups the stakes to the hero. So think of the first half of the story as presenting the hero with a problem. Then the second half of the story ups the stakes. By creating a story, and then ramping up the stakes, you can create a compelling story that will hold the audience from start to finish.