Thomas Mai

Breakout project: Fest fave “Den Attende,” made when Mai was 25. Cecilia Miniucchi’s “Scratch,” with Harvey Keitel.

Favorite producing maxim: “If you have faith you can achieve anything. Like with the shooting of ‘Apocalypse Now’ — everything went wrong and they still had a great film.”

Most unexpected place found talent: “Business school, where I met Anders Ronnow-Klarlund, the director of my first two films.”

Power schmooze spot: “The Petit Carlton bar (when it was still open). I’ve closed a lot of deals there over late-night beers.”

HOLLYWOOD – Some of the Danish brawn behind films such as “Breaking the Waves,” “Celebration,” “Mifune” and Cannes 2000 competitor “Dancer in the Dark” will be setting up shop in Los Angeles this summer. Thomas Mai, 29, currently an exec at Zentropa sales arm Trust Film, will open the production company’s L.A. office in partnership with private American investors.Mai crosses the Atlantic with full blessing from his Zentropa “elders,” director Lars von Trier and exec producer Peter Aalbaek Jensen, and is already taking on their famed penchant for hyperbole. Says Mai: “America is the only place I can hide from them. After all, Peter and Lars will stay in Europe and they are Communists — the U.S. is their sworn enemy.”

But he’s not giving up his day job entirely. “I’m stepping down as head of sales for Trust, but I’ll still go to the five or six top film festivals and markets a year,” says Mai. “I like selling, I just don’t want to do it full time. It’s also an added comfort for the investors to know I can produce and sell.”

Mai and co-producer Niels Rask Larsen aim to produce low-budget American auteur pics in the $3.5 million to $5 million range.

“We want to make American productions with he edge of what we have done in Copenhagen,” he says, “We’ve proven with the Dogma films that you don’t have to have a lot of money to make good films. It’s about going back to what film is all about: giving talent the freedom to develop. You can’t contol creativity; you might as well go with the flow and get the best out of it. And with the level of budget we’re at it’s not that big of a risk.”

Three pics are already being prepped. The first is “Scratch,” $3.5 million project with Harvey Keitel, Leslie Ann Warren, Valeria Gollino and Stefano Dionisi attached. “It’s a series of stories about people in San Francisco as seen through the eyes of a chicken,” says Mai, who adds that the director, first-timer Cecilia Miniucchi, embodies what the zany Danes are looking for. “She’s funny, wild and weird like us.”

The second pic in line is $3.8 million comedy “Loose Change,” directed by Bill Fishman, and the third is “Sit Down,” about a messiah figure who visits a small town hairdressers who with Dennis Hopper.Other talent Mai is likely to work includes R.D. Robb, filmmaker of controversial Leonardo Di Caprio-Tobey Maguire starrer “Don’s Plum.” (In a sly move earlier this year, Trust Film made a deal with Robb to help him complete the pic and sell the film outside North America. The pic is banned from distribution in the U.S.).

The new producing stint is actually a return to the metier for Mai, who produced 1996’s festgoer “Den Attende” and last year’s Danish- and English-lingo horror pic “Possessed,” with Udo Kier, which sold to 25 territories.

But the new gig doesn’t come without its challenges, starting with deciding on a suitable name for his new shingle: Mai wants Zentropa US; von Trier prefers ZentAmerica.

But Mai is taking it all in stride: “If I don’t succeed I’ll go back to Denmark and take a sweeping at Zentropa,” he quips.

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